Sunday, December 25, 2005

Federal Judge Dictates Content of Biology Course

Tibor R. Machan

Here you have it, the result of government education: Academic freedom is dead—a federal judge decided what Pennsylvania teachers may teach in biology classes.

As MSNBC reports, “The Dover [PA] Area School Board violated the Constitution when it ordered that its biology curriculum must include ‘intelligent design,’ the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled.” No, I do not believe Intelligent Design makes sense—you need to have a brain to design anything intelligently or otherwise, and since Intelligent Design is supposed to have created brains, the idea is viciously circular.

But never mind. It certainly shouldn’t be judges who make the decision what gets taught in class rooms. Sadly, in government educational institutions it has come to this, that a federal judge dictates the content of a biology course. Where is the principle of academic freedom here? Where is the principle of freedom of speech and expression?

Well, nowhere since elementary, high school, and much of higher education is controlled by the government in this free country. And when government controls something, the rules that apply are those that govern government. These rules are what the constitution states and the courts interpret. So, instead of schools governing themselves, having the sovereignty they must enjoy in a free country, they are bound by the laws of government. And since the government is forbidden to advocate religious doctrines, government schools, too, are so forbidden. Never mind what the administrators, teachers, and parents want.

Notice, in a private college the feds cannot barge in with these rules. Sure, many may disagree with what such schools consider proper educational fare but that’s the nature of freedom of education—no one may enforce his or her way of teaching students for all others. So, in a genuinely private school Intelligent or Unintelligent or Haphazard or whatever design could be taught in biology courses and it would then be up to the parents to decide if this is the kind of biology they want their children to be taught.

This is how the free press works: journalism is no less a definite profession and journalists are ethically bound to report news and voice opinions in certain ways, yet in this vital element of a free society no federal judge has any authority to tell journalists what they may or may not present to their customers. It is a matter of free competition, not a matter of government dictation.

The confidence shown in such a system amounts to no less than accepting the customers as having the capacity to make a determination whether they are receiving proper professional services. Some will accept tabloid “news,” or yellow journalism, or highly partisan reporting, or deceptive opinions—and some will go for the genuine stuff.

That’s exactly how it should be in education. But no. Embarrassingly enough, in this so called free country judges can tell teachers how they must teach. Which is scandalous. Yes, it was an early mistake of some American citizens and officials to nationalize education, to give it “free” to children (that is, to provide it at other people’s expense) and to make it even compulsory (that is, coerce kids into the system or something comparable). It should never have happened. Unfortunately, many of America’s early citizens were still quite un-surefooted about the reach freedom should have in their country. They even allowed taxation, a feudal device if there ever was one, to persist for funding legal services.

Sadly, with this contradiction in the country’s devotion to liberty—and of course some even more drastic ones, such as slavery—it is no great wonder that millions of Americans have no clear grasp of what a truly free society amounts to. So they invite more and more government into their lives, so much so that by now George III of England, who was shown the door by the colonists, would find the system quite conducive to his tastes if not actually be offended by its many breaches of human liberty he himself didn’t much like back then.

Not until we separate education and government, as we do the press and church, will there be civility about how our kids are to be taught and will federal judges be kept out of classrooms.

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