In Rachel Maddow’s This Week in God for today, she discusses the situation in Ohio in which science teacher John Freshwater was fired from his teaching job for ignoring and defying the school district’s directive to stop teaching any aspect of creationism and using religious items in the classroom. Upon being fired, he sued, and the case, when heard by the Ohio Supreme Court, was found in the school district’s favor, but by a narrow 4-3 margin.
Some are surprised by this. Some might find it telling of a churchy bent on the part of Ohio jurists and (as the judges are elected to this bench) its citizens. But is it? Obviously I’m not in Mr. Freshwater’s class, I don’t know exactly how he was approaching the matter, and I am not defending him specifically. But I would like to discuss the general phobia we seem to have of even exposing kids to religious ideas. I think it’s wrongheaded.
I actually don’t see why a science teacher should not be able to teach something about creationism, in terms of the development of our modern-day scientific beliefs. For two reasons. One, it traces important schools of thought from ancient times to today. Being exposed – in a largely scientific setting – to the “color” surrounding people’s perhaps irrational beliefs in spite of all that science – might just open up the minds of some students who would be hard to reach with “pure” science.
And second, it would begin to highlight some of the unanswered questions of “real” science, like: where did it all begin? The universe; matter; everything. Even the Big Bang theory isn’t able to address the beginning of everything. And even superstring theory doesn’t address love or empathy or dreams.
So, yes, I think a well-rounded student need not be barricaded from knowledge of other systems of understanding, but rather should at least brush up against them. I don’t know that that’s what Mr. Freshwater was doing. For all I know, his approach could have been heavy-handed fire-and-brimstone. Obviously that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about a deeper understanding of where our paths of inquiry even derive from, and how other people over time have attempted to understand these same mysteries. This to me is the goal of education. Not to teach facts, but to teach how to inquire, how to learn, how to understand.
Religion (well, that and Shakespeare!) permeates every aspect of adult life, whether we like it or not. There’s hardly a figure of speech in common use, or the story of a person’s name, or how a town or village was founded, or a battle fought, that doesn’t derive part of its origin from a religious source. Do we just ignore that, and pretend we have no idea where “love thy neighbor” or “as ye sow, so shall ye reap” comes from?
I reject the notion that in order to do this, one must isolate students from entire schools of thought that, when used in the right light, could dramatically enhance their understanding of the world.