Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Thomas Talks Sense?

I'm a little pressed for time today, so the periodical survey will continue tomorrow. In the meanime have a look at this surprisingly sensible column from right-wing pundit Cal Thomas. He writes:

The decision by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III to bar the teaching of “intelligent design” in the Dover, Pennsylvania public school district on grounds it is a thinly veiled effort to introduce a religious view of the world's origins is welcome for at least two reasons.

First, it exposes the sham attempt to take through the back door what proponents have no chance of getting through the front door. Judge Jones rebuked advocates of “intelligent design,” saying they repeatedly lied about their true intentions. He noted many of them had said publicly that their intent was to introduce into the schools a biblical account of creation. Judge Jones properly wondered how people who claim to have such strong religious convictions could lie, thus violating prohibitions in the Book they proclaim as their source of truth and standard for living.

Wow! Couldn't have said it any better myself. And I love the sneer quotes around intelligent design.

These paragraphs are all the more remarkable considering that Thomas is a proud member of the religious right. He is not happy that, for example, prayer has been removed from the public school. But he also believes that Christians make a mistake when they make political power their goal, as this inevitably leads to a corruption of the Christian principles they originally sought to uphold.

Thomas writes:

This leads to the second reason for welcoming Judge Jones' ruling. It should awaken religious conservatives to the futility of trying to make a secular state reflect their beliefs. Too many people have wasted too much time and money since the 1960s, when prayer and Bible reading were outlawed in public schools, trying to get these and a lot of other things restored. The modern secular state should not be expected to teach Genesis 1, or any other book of the Bible, or any other religious text.

That the state once did such things, or at least did not undermine what parents taught their children, is irrelevant. The culture in which we now live no longer reflects the beliefs of our grandparents' generation. For better, or for worse (and a strong case can be made that things are much worse), people who cling to the beliefs of previous generations have been given another chance to do what they should have been doing all along.

Again, well said.

So what should religious conservatives have been doing all along? Home schooling their kids, or placing them in prviate school, of course. And even here, I agree with him. In general I'm highly skeptical of home schooling, and I think all too often it's merely a device for brainwashing children into accepting truly bizarre religious beliefs. I would prefer that every one support the public schools. Frankly, I think that would go a long way towards solving some of the problems the public schools face. But I am enough of a libertarian to accept that in a free society the government can not kidnap your child for most of the day and force him to attend a government run school.

If you really can't abide the idea that sending your kid to public school will result in his exposure to ideas you find objectionable, then the proper response is, indeed, to home school him (or find a private school you can tolerate). What you do not do is try to use the power of the government to promote your preferred religious beliefs. And you definitely don't get to corrupt science education to bring it line with whatever fairy tales you happen to believe.


At 8:47 PM, Blogger 16 said...

in a free society the government can not kidnap your child


Not "your" child, that's a seperate human being there, big shooter.

And the kidnap part? Nonsense. Trivial nonsense.

At 7:26 AM, Blogger gravitybear said...

My wife and I are homeschooling our son, but not for religious reasons. Our son has multiple anaphylactic food allergies, meaning that substances that everyone considers innocuous are we have to consider lethal. Right now, he's six. When he's older and can advocate for himself, we will reconsider the homeschooling/public school issue.
But my comment is about the type of homeschoolers you are concerned about. We run into them a lot. In fact, when people who don't know us discover that we are homeschooling, they often assume that we are in that group. Actually, we are atheists. It is sometimes difficult to find good homeschooling materials that are secular, since the market is skewed the other way.
Hope I haven't bored you with this.

At 8:06 AM, Anonymous jc said...

That is an interesting problem that I've never considered. Are there no organizations out there that can help you with educational material? (You've probably already looked high & low).

At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Dick Lessard said...

Cal Thomaas sounds reasonable, but notice his plug for 'school choice'. That's social conservative codespeak for using your tax dollars so parents can send kids to private schools. IMHO, endorsing the 'privatization' of the education system is a huge mistake. That will result in more children becoming carbon copies of their anti-evolutionist parents. What does it matter if we keep anti-science out of public schools, if fewer and fewer students attend them? Jason, I think you have fallen into a trap on this one.

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Mark said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:12 AM, Anonymous Joe Shelby said...

I agree with Lessard -- the emphasis on private schooling just leads them to conclude that its in the best interests of the the public schools to have competition with the private schools, and thus justifies the efforts of the rich and the Right to have school vouchers to send their kids to the private schools on the public tax dollar.

the worst isn't just that the private schools are getting paid in public funds, but that they have no meed to maintain any accountability for those funds. there's no public standards that the student has to achieve that are comparable to a public education. not that there aren't plenty of schools with good standards and records of achievement (many catholic schools are better than public schools at teaching evolution because they're not afraid of it), but there are quite a few private schools whose only goal is the next Bob Jones University freshman class...

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Stephen Stralka said...

Cal Thomas? The Cal Thomas? I'm stunned, really, to see him saying anything sensible at all. I've followed him for some time, and I've long found him to be one of the stupidest of all the right-wing pundits. A lot of his columns are barely even coherent. For some time now, in fact, I've been wondering if he or Dennis Prager should be awarded the title Stupidest Man Alive. It looks like Prager wins.

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Jason said...


The term “kidnap” may be a little flamboyant, but I think it applies. I am a big supporter of education generally and public education in particular, but I'm also a fan of parental rights. Even when those parents are crazy. :) I also think you're being a bit petty harping on my use of the term “your child.”


I should have made it explicit in my original blog entry that I also think there are perfectly legitimate reasons for homeschooling that have nothing to do with brainwashing. I think I implied it by saying all too often, but I apoligize for not saying it explicitly.

While living in Kansas I attended a homeschooler's convention in Wichita. All of the featured speakers were from Answers in Genesis, and nearly all of the curricular materials advocated a fundamentalist viewpoint. It's a pity that homeschooling in general gets a bad name because of these folks.

Dick and Joe-

Regarding Thomas' second point, I was only supporting the idea that if you can't stomach things like evolution, then you should find other educational options for your child. You should not try use the government to promote your religion through the public schools. I do not support school choice or vouchers, especially if they include private and parochial schools. I don't think I've fallen into any trap here.


Every once in a while Thomas shows signs of intelligence. He co-wrote a book called Blinded by Might echoing some of the points he made here, specifically that Christians make a mistake when they become too concerned with gainign political power.

But boy do I agree with you about Dennis Prager. Unlike Thomas, Prager never, ever, shows any signs of intelligence.

At 8:29 PM, Anonymous John M said...

There are good reasons for home schooling such as:
* medical conditions (one instance already given)
* circumstances such as living a long ways from the school
* providing a better education for intelligent children who are stymied by conventional education
* etcetera

In many of these cases I support using public school funds to support the private education.

However in general public education is needed to give all upcoming citizens a common background and experience with others.

PS: Jesus says one should pray in private, not in public.

At 6:39 AM, Blogger Joe C said...

I have to admit I'm pleasantly surprised at this from Old Cal. But I've also read enough of him over the years to be wary of him. Always waiting for the other shoe to drop. But if he really thinks his fellow right-wingers ought to do a little more practicing and a little less preaching, then I agree.

Re: home and private schooling.
Leaving aside the public funding question for a moment, I like to imagine a time where there would be a wide choice of educational opportunities, like there are in colleges. You choose an institution based on its reputation and ranking by various criteria. I like to think that most people, even red-staters, would like their kids to be well-educated, which to me means they know how the physical world really works, they can make change in their head, and they can write a simple declarative sentence without using an apostrophe to make a plural. Being pretty liberal myself and living as I do in the belly of the blue-state liberal beast (Connecticut), I may have a pretty innocent view of this.


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