Jul 23 2008

Jerry Pournelle on education, Intelligent Design, etc.

Jerry Pournelle (the wikipedia article linked here gives short shrift to Pournelle’s science and engineering background) has some thoughts on the dangers of trying to ban the teaching of Intelligent Design in the schools, and he starts with the background of public education and goes from there.

What is the purpose of public schools? One looks in vain for guidance in the Constitution of the US, or in the early constitutions of most states. Education didn’t become a right until well after the Civil War, and didn’t become a federal right until fairly recently.

The main arguments for tax financed compulsory public education are (1) it is an investment in the future, for the pupils will learn skills that will allow them to take part in the national economy, support themselves, and not be a burden on the public; and (2) public education gives a common background for most pupils, and they can be taught the principles of citizenship; they learn the national saga and their state history, and gain a sense of pride in their country, and become imbued with patriotism.

Alas, today’s public schools do not seem to accomplish either goal, nor indeed do they even try to; and many “professional educators” reject both premises. Leslie Fish has an anarchist song called “Teacher, Teacher” in which she decries the school boards because they want the teachers to teach the children to be just like their parents. Of course that is precisely what most parents think their schools ought to be doing only better: that is, make the kids think like us, but make them smarter and more capable and able to earn more money. Why this is despicable is not known to me. Why the parents ought to be forced to pay intellectuals to make their children despise their parents is even less obvious.

How the schools are to make the children like their parents only better isn’t known to the school board, but it’s generally the goal, and when Professional Educators interview for positions they generally pretend to accept that goal and pretend to know how to accomplish it. The results are usually something else.

He goes on to point out that it is essentially an elitist desire to positively ban the teaching of Intelligent Design at a national level, and he points out recent times when the elitists who either mandated or banned certain things (Freudianism mandated, catastrophism banned, both positions now largely reversed) were simply flat wrong, scientific credentials or not.  I would add eugenics to the list, once universally accepted as valid science.

His main point: controlling local curriculum at the national level creates far worse problems than accepting the effects of a few school districts here and there doing things that the intelligentsia find distasteful, and about which they may be wrong anyway.  I have to agree, and find this a generally persuasive principle about a great many things, not just curriculum decisions in the public schools.

Pournelle is very smart man, and a cogent observer of many things, with a broad background in many areas. He is worth reading most days. Read the whole thing.

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2 Responses to “Jerry Pournelle on education, Intelligent Design, etc.”

  1. bobxxxx says:

    Jerry Pournelle has some thoughts on the dangers of trying to ban the teaching of MAGIC in the schools.

  2. harmonicminer says:

    Even if that were a reasonable comparison, and 100 or so midwestern school districts wanted to teach MAGIC in the schools, would you be in favor of the Department of Education:
    1) mandating nationally that absolutely no MAGIC be taught in the schools, and
    2) threatening federal action, and
    3) taking to court any school district that chose to do so, and
    4) generally trying to control what should be local curriculum decisions from Washington?

    Maybe you didn’t read Pournelle closely. He simply said the “cure” is worse than the “disease”.

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