Intelligent Design in Public Schools

Andrew Coulson at the Cato Institute has a question – why are we fighting over Intelligent Deisgn vs Evolution? Does it matter to one parent if another parent teaches their child about God?

Supporters of the theory of human origins known as “intelligent design” want it taught alongside the theory of evolution. Opponents will do anything to keep it out of science classrooms. The disagreement is clear.

But why does everyone assume that we must settle it through an ideological death-match in the town square?

Intelligent design contends that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved naturally, and so must be the product of an unspecified intelligent designer. Most adherents of this idea would undoubtedly be happy just to have it taught to their own children, and most of my fellow evolutionists presumably believe they should have that right. So why are we fighting?

We’re fighting because the institution of public schooling forces us to, by permitting only one government-sanctioned explanation of human origins. The only way for one side to have its views reflected in the official curriculum is at the expense of the other side.

This manufactured conflict serves no public good. After all, does it really matter if some Americans believe intelligent design is a valid scientific theory while others see it as a Lamb of God in sheep’s clothing? Surely not. While there are certainly issues on which consensus is key — respect for the rule of law and the rights of fellow citizens, tolerance of differing viewpoints, etc. — the origin of species is not one of them.

The sad truth is that state-run schooling has created a multitude of similarly pointless battles. Nothing is gained, for instance, by compelling conformity on school prayer, random drug testing, the set of religious holidays that are worth observing, or the most appropriate forms of sex education.

Not only are these conflicts unnecessary, they are socially corrosive. Every time we fight over the official government curriculum, it breeds more resentment and animosity within our communities. These public-schooling-induced battles have done much to inflame tensions between Red and Blue America.

But while Americans bicker incessantly over pedagogical teachings, we seldom fight over theological ones. The difference, of course, is that the Bill of Rights precludes the establishment of an official religion. Our founding fathers were prescient in calling for the separation of church and state, but failed to foresee the dire social consequences of entangling education and state. Those consequences are now all too apparent.

Fortunately, there is a way to end the cycle of educational violence: parental choice. Why not reorganize our schools so that parents can easily get the sort of education they value for their own children without having to force it on their neighbors?

Doing so would not be difficult. A combination of tax relief for middle income families and financial assistance for low-income families would give everyone access to the independent education marketplace. A few strokes of the legislative pen could thus bring peace along the entire “education front” of America’s culture war.

But let’s be honest. At least a few Americans see our recurrent battles over the government curriculum as a price worth paying. Even in the “land of the free,” there is a temptation to seize the apparatus of state schooling and use it to proselytize our neighbors with our own ideas or beliefs.

In addition to being socially divisive and utterly incompatible with American ideals, such propagandizing is also ineffectual. After generations in which evolution has been public schooling’s sole explanation of human origins, only a third of Americans consider it a theory well-supported by scientific evidence. By contrast, 51 percent of Americans believe “God created human beings in their present form.”

These findings should give pause not only to evolutionists but to supporters of intelligent design as well. After all, if public schooling has made such a hash of teaching evolution, why expect it to do any better with I.D.?

Admittedly, the promotion of social harmony is an unusual justification for replacing public schools with parent-driven education markets. Most arguments for parental choice rest on the private sector’s superior academic performance or cost-effectiveness. But when you stop and think about it, doesn’t the combination of these advantages suggest that free markets would be a far more intelligent design for American education?

Incidentally, the reason those that we’ll continue to fight over this issue was mentioned yesterday – the Left hates Inequality. All children should be taught equally, and that means your child taught whatever the state decides.

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24 thoughts on “Intelligent Design in Public Schools

  1. Although I like the idea of the private sector receieving more authority to teach, it wouldn’t work out to the extent that Mr. Coulson believes it would.

    The only way the conflict would stop is if the battlefield is no longer there. Just because more children obtain a private education doesn’t mean that public schooling vanishes. That being the case, there would still be conflict so long as the government teaches anything to anyone.

    Personally, I would much rather have the public sector look more like the private. Namely, changing some public schools to teach certain doctrines while leaving other public schools to teach what they are now.

    The biggest problems with that must be the fact that it creates more diversity and not everyone would be willing to spend tax dollars giving people the choice in that.

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  2. Coulson sort of addresses that in his 3rd paragraph:

    Most adherents of this idea would undoubtedly be happy just to have it taught to their own children, and most of my fellow evolutionists presumably believe they should have that right.

    So you disagree? That the opposition still wants to control what is taught to other people’s children?

    I can’t imagine the government agreeing to setup schools for “certain doctrines” as that would be immediately denounced and indoctrination. Private schools, though, fulfill that need admirably.

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  3. I’ll agree with you on that. Coulson did sum up my view without me noticing. And unfortunately, regardless of what *I* want, the opposition would still want to control the education in any potential children of mine’s life, not based upon content, but rather upon the ideal of equality.

    I guess the only real avenue for my beliefs about the education of this nation falls to the private sector, as you’ve mentioned. There’s just too many nuts wanting to control the public sector for it to make any real progress.

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  4. Bad, bad idea. Really sucky idea, in fact. And completely impractical. The kind of bone-headed sweeping high-concept idea that has absolutely no practical application. But hey, it SOUNDS good.

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  5. So sayeth Jo. Nothing to back up her opinion, no acknowledgment of the existing problem that many parents of faith despise the current system, and no alternative suggestions. Just shoot it down, bam. And in so doing, support the current system of forced government-selected indoctrination over the objections of the parents. Utopia, at last we are all equal.

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  6. Once again, Jo, please point to the idea to which you object. Is it Parental choice?

    Obfuscation! Great adumbrating obviation,woman!

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  7. I have no objection to parental choice. I just don’t think the solution proposed in this article is practical. Oh, sure – if the only issue were one part of one year of a science curriculum, that would be a breeze, but claiming all parents have the ability to customize a school’s curriculum in a way that wouldn’t impose on any other parents’ idea of the perfect curriculum is laughable. And how many different schools would we need? How many more teachers would it take to staff them? What would be the minimum student requirement to make creating a new school feasible? Or do we just add another 250 so versions of lessons to the existing curriculum and figure out a way to teach them?

    Like I said, it sounds good in theory, but when you get down to the execution of it, it’s not workable. Not in a way that would satisfy ALL parents and solve the root problem, although I have no doubt it could be done to satisfy only the minority that has this specific objection to public schooling. Which is why there are charter schools. The system is already in place for that minority group of parents who don’t want the government to educate their children.

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  8. Let’s just say the current system is messed up. I believe we can all agree on that.

    Let’s also say that everyone has their own idea of what they want, and for the mass majority of them their ideas are fundamentally different from each other.

    Now, let’s suppose that the government proposes a set of instructions they feel would be best for the majority of students. By definition alone, somebody is going to disagree with it, but somebody is going to accept it as well.

    But… what if somebody is willing to privately educate those who feel the public system doesn’t work? What if a lot of parents feel the same? I suggest that the private sector to step up when parents feel the public system is falling apart.

    The only thing is, isn’t that what we already have? The private sector is already doing so (for a price), but they don’t have the backing of many people, and sometimes that leads to an elitist view in one direction or the other. Few people, if any, feel the two sectors are equal and will automatically shoot one down for no real reason other than it’s different.

    Afterall, the purpose of a private sector is to provide a valid education with a slightly different view on the world, isn’t it?

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  9. Here’s my no-holds-barred opinon on this – complaining about the public system not teaching exactly what you want it to is lazy parenting. I have no problem with charter schools. I have no problem with private schools. I have no problem with homeschooling.

    I don’t think our current system is broken. I don’t think it’s in any worse mess than it’s ever been. I think it does a fine job of doing exactly what it was designed to do, which is offer all children the basic education they need to become productive members of society, and give them a foundation for higher education should they choose it.

    But teaching “doctrine”? That’s my job as a parent. Teaching anything I specifically believe that’s different than or goes beyond what is part of the state curriculum is my job. Teaching my child where our personal beliefs my differ from someone else’s is my job. Complaining that the government isn’t expressing my POV, and expecting it to? Not so much.

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  10. And I think the opposite – that the current system that forces a single state sponsored viewpoint is broken, and working to change the system to encourage private solutions is responsible parenting, not lazy. If you like the current system, it must be teaching your viewpoint. Those that do not like the current system though are forced to pay twice (once public, once private) to make sure their children aren’t exposed to teachings that their parents oppose..

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  11. True. I’d actually forgot about the double charge. My view doesn’t change, although I’d like to agree with your disapproval of double payment. If it didn’t exist, the private sector would be given a rather large boost. The only problem is that it would also deplete what little money public schools receive. Beyond raising taxes, I’m not sure how they would keep semi-functional.

    Dang finances. You ruin perfectly good ideals all the time.

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  12. “If you like the current system, it must be teaching your viewpoint.”

    That’s a very odd thing to say.

    “Those that do not like the current system though are forced to pay twice (once public, once private) to make sure their children aren’t exposed to teachings that their parents oppose.”

    Again, not true. Charter schools do not require a parent to pay twice. I should know – my oldest has gone to them for most of her school career.

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  13. You’ve said elsewhere you oppose creationism taught in public schools. Ergo, you’re pleased the public schools are teaching your viewpoint. Other parents are not.

    As the article says above, the only reason this disagreement comes to a head is because of forced confrontation in a single, publically funded education system. And I didn’t say “charter,” I said public versus private. If you want to put your child in a private school that teaches your parental viewpoint, you pay for private school after you pay for the public school you do no use.

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  14. You really think the only issue anyone could possibly disagree over in the entire 12-year public school curriculum is evolution vs. creationism?

    I know you didn’t say charter. Neither did the article you quoted. Which is convenient, I suppose, but not terribly accurate. The fact remains that the only options are not the government-mandated curriculum or private schools.

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  15. Oh, and lots of people pay for public schools they don’t use, given that funding for education isn’t limited to just parents. The point of public education is that it benefits society as a whole, not just a particular individual’s child. A parent who opts to pay for private school is getting the exact same “use” out of the public education system that anyone without children gets.

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  16. Well, no, creationism vs evolution is one. The article above I’ll refer you to again lists several topics which parents disagree, and if parents were able to have more choice as to their schools and their curriculum, then parents would be able to *choose* instead of fight.

    You sound like you’re against parental choice because you like what the public schools are teaching. Still.

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  17. I don’t sound like anything of the sort. It’s really bizarre; I say, “This is not a practical solution” and Sean comes back with, “You are against parental choice.” I say, “I feel it is my responsibility to correct or supplement the established curriculum” and you come back with, “you like what the schools are teaching.”

    In the meantime, I just wait (without holding my breath) for someone to address what I’ve actually said.

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  18. Uh, Jo….. wait, one moment while I get your words out of my mouth…

    (I did not say this.)

    I tend to agree with you, however, as soon as the legislature gets involved, then things go screwy. Take the “10%” rule with high schools – you probably could get into a state college with your grades from high school, assuming that you graduated in the top 10%. However, the case with me would have been different. Even with an education that was similar to yours, I would probably have lost out to some kid who ranked in the top ten percent of his graduating class from an inferior school. Take back the schools, make the districts smaller and have parents get involved in financial decisions by moving bond elections only on days that are for general elections. The whole thing is a racket. More local control – that’s my $.02. Oh, and hang those judges that keep interfering with school funding. 😉

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  19. Alex, I have to address what you said. This is your quote. “The only problem is that it would also deplete what little money public schools receive.” I have a huge problem with this quote because public schools are very, very well funded. Over half of my property taxes go to public schools, and the rest is divided between a few other areas.The solution in the past for the breakdown of the public schools has always been to throw more money at a broken system. The schools could operate on quite a bit less money (and often do in the private sector), and provide a better education at the same time.

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  20. Virginia, because this website is about a lot more than Dale Earnhardt Jr’s girlfriend and ugly kittens. Like…. intelligent design in public schools!

    Megan, I agree, except I don’t think the money is going to the teachers where it needs to go. The money is going for football stadiums, administrators and administration buildings, and expensive superintendents.

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  21. Yes, absolutely Michael. I was not trying to say cut the teacher’s salary. For what they do, they really are quite underpaid. It is the whole system that is sucking money, not really the teachers.

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