Katy Burns: On education, science (and more!) hysteria takes the place of reasoned debate
‘I feel like this Common Core thing is just evil. I’m going call it what it is. I think it’s evil.”
A woman from Manchester was talking to NHPR reporter Sam Evans-Brown about the Common Core standards being adopted in states throughout the country, including New Hampshire. Common Core is yet another nationally collaborative attempt at much-needed improvement in educational achievement. Which, we should all remind ourselves, is slipping ever lower in this country compared with other first-world lands.
There is – surprise! – a small backlash against Common Core in New Hampshire, and the speaker from Manchester is part of that.
But . . . Common Core is evil?
Hitler was evil. Apartheid was evil. Enslaving other human beings is evil. Torturing and murdering people in the name of religious purity – which has happened repeatedly over the centuries in virtually all religions – is certainly evil.
But an earnest attempt to come up with educational standards that could help children to be better equipped for a 21st-century world? Evil? That is just nuts.
It’s also a dandy way of foreclosing even the beginning of a rational discussion. How can one seriously debate an issue with someone who just dismisses the subject as “evil”? Or passes it off – as another opponent does – as a nefarious plot by unnamed schemers from away who want to. . . . Well, what exactly do they want? To turn our precious children into One World Government automatons?
As I recall, that was the general idea of the recent hysterical resistance to the International Baccalaureate program some schools have adopted in recent years, again in the cause of improving the way we teach our children.
This “children in peril” thing is hardly new. My
maternal grandfather, a lovely man, spent his last years warning all who would listen that the Masons were intent on “getting” his grandchildren. But at least those of us who loved him readily acknowledged that he was, to put it delicately, a touch delusional.
The current craziness generated by something so innocuous as Common Core or IB is really amazing. And it’s not just Common Core or IB. Take the mysterious Agenda 21, a feel-good voluntary United Nations program, dating to 1992, which encourages sustainable development and which has morphed, in some circles, into a draconian plot engineered by those who (again!) want an inimical One World Government to reign in these United States.
What about the totally crazy charge that Obamacare calls for death panels? Never mind that this is insanity, that it says that doctors and other medical professionals – who went through years of training precisely to preserve and protect people’s lives and health – would then cheerfully conspire among themselves to deprive those same people of their lives. It assumes, nuttily, that the U.S. government – which after all is composed of our fellow Americans – is so malevolent that it would deliberately kill the people who gave it its legitimacy.
In the same way, some of the more extreme defenders of unchecked gun rights argue that the real purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect us from our own government – presumably to save us from the very same police officers and troops they otherwise loudly support and praise. After all, who else would carry out the government’s nefarious schemes?
Such stuff doesn’t represent reasoned, thoughtful arguments. The claims are hysteria, pure and simple nonsense that – when you think about it – is a prime argument for why we need to improve our educational standards in this country.
Of course, stifling debate by making outlandish claims that by their very nature defy even the idea of debate has become part of the political landscape. Opponents are anti-American. They hate America. They are socialists, communists, fascists, Nazis. They are anti-Christian, anti-prayer, anti-God!
Now, how on earth is any rational person expected to respond to a charge that he hates America? Or that she is anti-God? There is no way. See? Discussion over before it begins.
We’re looking at the political realm now, but the willful ignorance factor is hardly limited to that.
This country was founded by explorers and adventurers whose descendants became entrepreneurs, inventors, educators, artists and scientists whose visions, drive and ingenuity helped to shaped much of the modern world as we know it.
Now we seem to be timorous, fearful of the future and its new frontiers.
An example: This nation really led the world in developing vaccines that helped to make any number of perennial health scourges things of the past. Yet we now have parents – sadly, scarily, often among the best-educated – eschewing childhood vaccines, endangering not only their own children but any others they may have contact with. Clearly those spearheading this retreat into ignorance and folk remedies didn’t grow up in a world where, say, every child knew another child who had been crippled, even enclosed in an iron lung, by polio.
‘Voodoo, hokum, hoax’
Another example: The near hysteria that arises when even the subject of man-made global warming and climate change arises. There is virtually no disagreement among genuine scientists around the globe that our planet is warming at an alarming and totally unprecedented rate, changing the world as it’s been known for many millennia. And it is largely caused by human activity.
Yet it has become an article of faith, particularly on the American right, that it is – in the immortal words of that well-known apostle of science Michele Bachmann – “all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.” Talk about fiddling while Rome burns! A large chunk of the American populace makes Nero look like a piker.
Want more? Try these little gems assembled by one Blake Hounshell from surveys taken in 2009. Percentage of Americans who believe in angels: 55. Percentage of Americans who believe in evolution: 39. Percentage of Americans who believe in anthropogenic global warming: 36. Percentage of Americans who believe in ghosts: 34. Percentage of Americans who believe in UFOs: 34.
In retrospect, I guess it isn’t so amazing that someone would call Common Core “evil.”
(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)