Teenagers Being Arrogant - So What Else is New?
Today's Los Angeles Times has this vaguely annoying article. The subject is high school biology students parroting creationist talking points they don't understand and generally making obnoxious pests of themselves in the process:
Monday morning, Room 207: First day of a unit on the origins of life. Veteran biology teacher Al Frisby switches on the overhead projector and braces himself.
As his students rummage for their notebooks, Frisby introduces his central theme: Every creature on Earth has been shaped by random mutation and natural selection — in a word, by evolution.
The challenges begin at once.
“Isn't it true that mutations only make an animal weaker?” sophomore Chris Willett demands. “'Cause I was watching one time on CNN and they mutated monkeys to see if they could get one to become human and they couldn't.”
Frisby tries to explain that evolution takes millions of years, but Willett isn't listening. “I feel a tail growing!” he calls to his friends, drawing laughter.
Unruffled, Frisby puts up a transparency tracing the evolution of the whale, from its ancient origins as a hoofed land animal through two lumbering transitional species and finally into the sea. He's about to start on the fossil evidence when sophomore Jeff Paul interrupts: “How are you 100% sure that those bones belong to those animals? It could just be some deformed raccoon.”
From the back of the room, sophomore Melissa Brooks chimes in: “Those are real bones that someone actually found? You're not just making this up?”
Pretty standard stuff, these days. I know I should probably be angry at these kids, but mostly I just feel sorry for them. Consider this:
Two decades of political and legal maneuvering on evolution has spilled over into public schools, and biology teachers are struggling to respond. Loyal to the accounts they've learned in church, students are taking it upon themselves to wedge creationism into the classroom, sometimes with snide comments but also with sophisticated questions — and a fervent faith.
As sophomore Daniel Read put it: “I'm going to say as much about God as I can in school, even if the teachers can't.”
Daniel Read, for instance, considers it his Christian duty to expose his classmates to the truths he finds in the Bible, starting with the six days of creation. It's his way, he said, of counterbalancing the textbook, which devotes three chapters to evolution but just one paragraph to creationism. A soft-spoken teen with shaggy hair and baggy pants, Daniel prepares carefully for his mission in this well-educated, affluent and conservative suburb of 28,000, just outside Kansas City, Mo. He studies DVDs distributed by Answers in Genesis, a “creation evangelism” ministry devoted to training children to question evolution.
Other students gather ammunition from sermons at church, or from the dozens of websites that criticize evolution as a God-denying sham. They interrupt lectures to expound on the inaccuracies of carbon dating; to disparage transitional fossils as frauds; to show photos of ancient footprints that they think prove humans and dinosaurs walked side by side.
How is it that these kids hear a preacher say something in church, and it never occurs to them that maybe the preacher doesn't know what he is talking about? When their science teacher tells them something that conflicts with what they hear in church, they not only assume the teacher is wrong but apparently feel the need to get snarky and obnoxious as well. Even for a teenager it's pretty arrogant to think they've already solved all the mysteries of existence.
I think the reason is that from a very young age they are told not simply the basic assertions of their religion, but also that the whole idea of questioning those assertions is dangerous and immoral. That sort of relentless indoctrination is very hard to shake off. And that's why I feel more sorry for them than angry at them. We're talking about kids who have no higher ambition in life than to parrot the ignorant talking points they receive from the frauds at Answers in Genesis. Kids who have been raised in an environment that praises blind obedience to undeserving authority figures, rather than open-mindedness and education. Kids who have no idea how to distinguish between reliable sources of information, and unreliable sources of information. These kids are victims of their parents' ingorance. And once you appreciate that, some of Richard Dawkins' more florid statements likening religious indoctrination of children to child abuse suddenly don't seem so unreasonable.
Of course, let's not go overboard with our sympathy. Victims they may be, but the fact remains that they are also snotty ignoramuses who don't know anything about anything. Ultimately, they have to be dealt with aggressively and contemptuously. For their own good. They have to have it explained to them in no uncertain terms that their preachers frequently don't know what they are talking about, and that science should be learned from scientists, not clerics. Sadly, it is unlikely that any public school teacher could both administer the requisite tongue-lashing and also hope to keep his job.
Anyway, the whole article is worth reading. But not if you're currently in a good mood.