Monday, March 28, 2005

From the Froot Loop Department . . .

You know, people believe all kinds of things -- things they absolutely and sincerely believe are provable facts: that the Holocaust was a hoax, that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had kids, that Shakespeare wasn't the author of the works attributed to him, that Bigfoot lurks in the forests of the northwest, that the moon landing never happened, and that an alien spaceship crashed in New Mexico. Now, the Florida legislature is considering a bill that would open the door to any student who buys into whatever kooky theory -- which are termed "alternative academic theories" can sue a professor who "ridicules" him.

This is, of course, not about getting Bigfoot discussed in the classroom. The sponsor of the bill directly pointed to evolutionary theory as one of the things that students could sue about, when faced with a "dictator professor" who doesn't want to hear about Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design isn't an "alternative academic theory"; it's a religious theory dressed up in scientific terms.

But, you know 45% of Americans believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis, in spite of the teaching of evolution in public schools and universities, and over the years they have constructed quite elaborate theories to promote that. One would have to be a scientist to profitably argue with them -- and most people trained in the sciences don't think it's worth their time. My brother told me once that anyone who continues to believe in evolution is either ignorant, or is just determined to oppose God.

I actually don't have a large stake in the matter; my religious beliefs are not threatened by the theory of evolution, and I figure people can believe any fool thing they want to. However, what I *do* object to is that a professor, whose job it is to teach science, or history, or whatever, would be at risk of being sued because they don't put these "alternatives" on the same level as solid academic and scientific research. As Juan pointed out, you're going to see anyone who teaches at a university fleeing the state as fast as they possibly can.

I'm beginning to think that it isn't out of line to say that there are some people out there who are determined to destroy academia -- and maybe education as a whole.


Marco said...

It is hard to believe that the religious conservatives can have such an influence on what is taught on schools and Universities. So many students from different countries want to study in the US (my mother did a Master in Boston!), and now some illuminated guys want to destroy a brilliant system of knowledge production?

By destroying an educational system a country destroys its potential on the mid-term.

I remember some words by the House of Justice addressed to the world Congress of New York. It said something like this: “New York has produced the best and the worst the western civilization as ever seen”. I wonder if these words are applicable to all America.

Karen said...

Dear Marco,

Religious conservatives actually don't have that much influence on what is taught -- that's what they are complaining about! Conservatism holds a great deal of sway over American culture -- with Universities, and Hollywood being rare exceptions. And because they are liberal bastions, conservatives have unending complaints about them. Some of these people just don't want liberalism to exist, period. They see it as a huge threat to our culture, way of life, etc.

One of the things that I find threatening about the assault on higher education is that it isn't only the religious conservatives, but the neo-conservatives that also are pushing for this so-called Academic Bill of Rights. Both groups have different motivations and areas of concern, but they both hate liberal college professors. The neoconservatives, particularly, have been trashing Middle Eastern Studies, seeing it as too anti-Israel and pro-Islam.

Yes, America has both "the best and the worst". I can't argue with that. No country has the educational opportunities that we do, yet so much of our culture is trashy and trivial.

However, it's hard to imagine that a law like this would not be overturned in the courts. College professors have as much right to freedom of speech as anyone else. Another great thing about America is that we do have a Bill of Rights, and many an extremist idea has foundered against it. I very much hope that this one will, too.