Leonard Pitts' Failure of an Analogy

On Groundhog's Day 2011, Leonard Pitts, editorialist for the Miami Herald, demonstrated that he has his head stuck in the ground when it comes to the issue of Intelligent Design. In an editorial entitled Losing the race for intelligence, Pitts argues that the failure of many teachers to teach the party line on Darwinian evolution will somehow lead to the fall of America through the analogy of a giant.

His editorial begins by noting a rather intriguing study about the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

ITEM: Only 28 percent of high school science teachers consistently follow National Research Council guidelines encouraging them to present students with evidence of evolution. Thirteen percent ``explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design.''

These are among the findings of Penn State political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer after examining data from a representative survey of 926 high school biology teachers. Writing in the Jan. 28 issue of Science magazine, they report that most science teachers -- 60 percent -- cheat controversy by such stratagems as telling students it does not matter if they "believe" in evolution, so long as they understand enough to pass a test. Or they teach evolution on a par with creationism and encourage students to make up their own minds.

He then speaks of a giant who had once been great but was now stupid (an obvious reference to America). Why had the giant become stupid? According to Pitts' analogy:

stupidity crept over the giant with the stealth of twilight, a product less of one abrupt moment than of a thousand moments of complacency, of resting on laurels, of allowing curiosity to be teased and bullied out of bright children, of dumbing down textbooks so kids could get better grades with less work, of using ``elite'' like a curse word. And, of behaving as if knowing things, and being able to extrapolate from and otherwise make critical use of, the things one knows, was a betrayal of some fundamental human authenticity -- some need to keep it real.

Stupidity stole over the giant until it could no longer tell science from faith, or conventional wisdom from actual wisdom and in any event, valued ideological purity above them all. Stupidity snaked over the giant until science teachers shrank from teaching science, history books contained history that wasn't history, late-night comics got easy laughs from people on the street who could not say when the War of 1812 was fought, political leaders told outright lies with blithe smiles and no fear of being caught and you would not have been surprised to hear that someone had fixed mathematics, so that 2+2 could now equal 17, thus preserving the all-important self-esteem of second-grade kids.

Ultimately, the giant became second rate while the other giants who once revered the giant rose in prominence. Pitts' writes:

And the giant? It sat on its haunches in the mud as the world changed about it and new giants rose and shook their fists. The giant did not notice. It was watching The Jersey Shore on MTV.

And it lived obliviously ever after.

Much can be said about this article, but I will limit myself to making four points.

First, the last time I checked most high school science teachers are people who have first been trained in science. Most school districts still require that a high school or middle school teacher of biology have, at minimum, a bachelor's degree in biology (and many have more advanced degrees than that). Thus, it seems to me that the real interesting part of this study is that 60% of these biology teachers feel that the evolutionary paradigm is not as solid as it is made out to be. These are not hicks or religious nuts making this decision, but individuals who have studied and obtained degrees in biology!

Second, it is hardly apparent that the teaching of intelligent design (which is not creationism) or "some form of creationism" will destroy science or biology. Contrary to the whinings of some pro-evolutionists, neither Intelligent Design nor even Creationism is anti-science. Regardless of which theories are taught to explain how things are the way they are biologically, scientists will still study and know anatomy, still develop theories as to why certain creatures act in certain ways, and still work on creating medications to cure diseases. The idea that a teaching that recognizes that there may be a creator behind the universe -- an idea that led to the scientific revolution in the first place -- would somehow destroy science is little more than a humanist fantasy.

Third, supposing for the sake of argument only that the teaching of Intelligent Design or some form of Creationism does hurt science classes (a claim that is not proven), even Pitts cannot help but acknowledge that the problems with education are much more deep-rooted than can be resolved by a witch hunt for theists in biology classes. He is right that political correctness and the desire to make no child feel bad have also had a negative impact on education -- a much larger impact than the teaching of Intelligent Design or Creationism. But even bigger problems arise from lack of parental concern, lack of discipline and the advancing of failing students. These have all had a much bigger impact on school failure.

Finally, it isn't the people who are intrigued with Intelligent Design and who challenge the claims of evolution who are watching Jersey Shore on MTV. I am pretty certain that the viewers of Jersey Shore are almost exclusively the innumerable students who have never been trained to think and who uncritically accept whatever their teachers tell them.


David said…
Tsk tsk, BK, you know the facts have no place in this discussion. Your transparent attempt to bring logical reasoning to bear only demonstrates that you're an Anti-Science Science-Hater out to Destroy Science! You and all your intelligentdesigncreationismbabyeating friends should be ashamed of yourselves.
BK said…

Sorry, I'll try not to do it again.

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