"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

(c) Can Stock Photo / mheld

I never wanted to be one of those grumpy old men who say things like, "The country is going to Hell in a handbasket," but it's getting harder and harder to control myself. We in the US have a serious pollution problem. It's not just air and water pollution, though those are certainly worth our attention.

Sadly an insidious form of pollution is spreading throughout the US. It's pollution in the form of increased science denial and conspiracy addiction.

Last week I read a Science news article about a private school in Florida (receiving voucher money, no doubt) that refused to allow any of their teachers to get the COVID-19 vaccine for fear that it is somehow dangerous to the students.
It is our policy, to the extent possible, not to employ anyone who has taken the experimental COVID-19 injection until further information is known. … It is in the best interests of the children to protect them from the unknown implications of being in close proximity for the entire day with a teacher who has very recently taken the COVID-19 injection.
Follow-up articles confirmed that those who ran the school were not just against the COVID vaccine, but vaccines in general, as well as conspiracies around 5G communications networks. One teacher, who has since quit teaching at the school, said that the atmosphere was "like a cult."

Closer to home, some local parents are up in arms because their kids are being forced to wear masks at school. "Kids don't die from COVID!" is the claim from parents. Apparently, these parents don't know anyone older than school age who their children might infect. So, the school system brought in medical professionals who explained that masks were effective. The board President, who is against mask-wearing and offering no scientific rebuttal, simply said that
...he was not “in full agreement” with the statements from health professionals.
On Thursday (April 29), the Board President's wife suggested that parents take action against a teacher who spoke
...positively about the COVID-19 vaccination.
She also suggested that parents participate in a student "sick-out" in the fall so the school system would lose "$5 million."

Why are she and her husband fighting against established science? Why not listen to actual medical professionals (who, by the way, talked to the school board)? Perhaps because they don't "believe" the science. They've likely been convinced by right-wing media that the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax, or that the danger of the disease is exaggerated. My guess is that they refuse to believe the CDC's claim that nearly 570,000 American citizens have died from COVID. They believe their preferred media outlets over actual medical experts. When their child brings home the coronavirus and infects an elderly or at-risk relative will they ask the media outlets for help...or will they go to an actual medical doctor?

In cableland, white supremacist sympathizer Tucker Carleson has called on viewers to confront people and tell them that "your mask-wearing makes me uncomfortable. Take the mask off." He went on to claim that masks didn't prevent wearers from getting COVID. When the CDC responded that mask-wearing was more for the benefit of other people than for the mask wearer, Carleson ignored the response and replied that masks don't prevent wearers from getting COVID.

These are the same people who, I expect,
  • go to doctors and hospitals when they are sick
  • take prescription medications to improve their health
  • use computer technology for safety (in their cars, for example), entertainment, and convenience
  • use municipally cleaned water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning
  • live in homes heated and cooled by electricity
  • eat meals made with high-yield grain or high-yield grain-fed animals
  • use (or pay someone to use) fertilizers and plant foods to keep their lawns and gardens growing
  • watch television, or listen to the radio, whose signals are beamed from satellites
  • use other products, materials, and services improved by science in their daily lives


Unfortunately, these stories are just the tip of the iceberg. About half of all Americans reject the concept of evolution (because "it's just a theory"). More than a third of Americans are dismissive, doubtful, or apathetic about climate change. About one-fourth of all Americans are afraid to get the COVID vaccine putting the nation's herd immunity at risk. Beyond that, there's 1) the moon landing was a hoax, 2) the government has covered up aliens on Earth, 3) drug companies are hiding cures for diseases, 4) all vaccines are dangerous, 5) the Earth is flat, and numerous other conspiracies.

As a former science teaching elementary school teacher I feel discouraged. The nation's children, including those who attend Miami's antivax private school, are watching. A large number of them are being taught to ignore expertise and deny basic science. It's as if the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the last three hundred years of scientific learning never happened. The country is being polluted with ignorance.

Have we been so obsessed with teaching only reading and math over the last two decades that we've given science and other content areas short shrift in public school curricula? Is the current lack of scientific literacy in our citizens due to the cult of personality around the previous President (who is also a science denier and conspiracy theorist)?

Science literacy has to be taught, but, as we've seen, teachers willing to teach kids to be science-thinkers are often up against science-denying school board members. In order to combat this trend in usually Republican areas of the country, there are several science-teacher groups that provide help and support for classroom science teachers, like the Association for Science Teacher Education, the National Center for Science Education, and the National Science Teaching Association. It's up to teachers to choose to use the groups' resources, however.

We need a "Sputnik moment." In 1957, the Soviets beat us into space. The successful launch of their Sputnik satellite pushed complacent Americans into action...actions which included a massive investment in space science and science education. We need something that will spur the same sort of action now. The worldwide coronavirus pandemic might have done it if it hadn't been politicized, but it looks as if we'll need something else.

Maybe the Chinese will land on Mars...
Grumpy old man


No comments: