• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

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Break a leg

Just got Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason from the library.

Much to ponder, including the following passages from chapter one, “The Way We Live Now: Just Us Folks”:

Misguided objectivity, particularly with regard to religion, ignores the willed ignorance that is one of the defining characteristics of fundamentalism. One of the most powerful taboos in American life concerns speaking ill of anyone else’s faith — an injunction rooted in confusion over the difference between freedom of religion and granting religion immunity from the critical scrutiny applied to other social institutions. Both the Constitution and the pragmatic realities of living in a pluralistic society enjoin us to respect our fellow citizens’ right to believe whatever they want — as long as their belief, in Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But many Americans have misinterpreted this sensible laissez-faire principle to mean that respect must be accorded the beliefs themselves. This mindless tolerance, which places observable scientific facts, subject to proof, on the same level as unprovable supernatural fantasy, has played a major role in the resurgence of both anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism. Millions of Americans are perfectly free, under the Constitution, to believe that the Lord of Hosts is coming one day to murder millions of others who do not consider him the Messiah, but the rest of the public ought to exercise its freedom to identify such beliefs as dangerous fallacies that really do pick pockets and break legs.


The perfect storm over evolution is a perfect example of the new anti-intellectualism in action, because it owes its existence not only to a renewed religious fundamentalism but to the widespread failings of American public education and the scientific illiteracy of much of the media. Usually portrayed solely as a conflict between faith and science, the evolution battle is really a microcosm of all of the cultural forces responsible for the prevalence of unreason in American society today. The persistence of anti-evolutionism, and its revival as a movement during the past twenty years, sets the United States apart from every other developed country in the world. On August 30, 2005, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the results of a public opinion poll that received almost no attention in the press because Hurricane Katrina had slammed into the Gulf Coast the day before. But the Pew findings, for those who bothered to read them, revealed an intellectual disaster as grave as the human and natural disaster unfolding in New Orleans. Nearly two thirds of Americans want both creationism, generally understood as the hard-core fundamentalist doctrine based on the story of Genesis, to be taught along with evolution in public schools. Fewer than half of Americans — 48 percent — accept any form of evolution (even guided by God), and just 26 percent accept Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection. Fully 42 percent say that all living beings, including humans, have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

This level of scientific ignorance cannot be blamed solely on religious fundamentalism, because the proportion of Americans who reject evolution in any form is higher — by 15 percentage points — than the proportion who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Something else must be at work, and that something else is the low level of science education in American elementary and secondary schools, as well as in many community colleges. …

There are of course many scientific disagreements about the particulars of evolution, but the general theory of evolution by means of natural selection is a settled issue for the mainstream scientific community. The popular “just a theory” argument rests not only on religious faith but on our national indifference to the specific meanings of words in specific contexts. Many Americans simply do not understand the distinction between the definitions of a theory in everyday life and in science. For scientists, a theory is a set of principles designed to explain natural phenomena, supported by observation, and subject to proofs and peer review; scientific theory is not static but is modified as new tools of measurement and research findings become available. In its everyday meaning, however, a theory is nothing more than a guess based on limited information or misinformation — and that is exactly how many Americans view scientific theory.


When [George W.] Bush endorsed the teaching of intelligent design, he was predictably cheered by the religious right and denounced by the secular and religious left, but no one pointed out how truly extraordinary it was that any American president would place himself in direct opposition to contemporary scientific thinking. Even when they have been unsympathetic to new currents in philosophical, historical, and political thought, American presidents ave always wanted to be on the right side of science, and those understood nothing about science were smart enough to keep their mouths shut.


3 Responses

  1. This looks good. Thanks, I’ll make it my next pick.

  2. Sounds very interesting. My pile of “to be read” is getting high though. And it is clearly going to do nothing for my general despair at the state of the American people (present company excepted).

  3. Wisteria, I had to wait awhile until the ILL requests cooled down, but I’m glad I did.

    JoVE, thank you and no, the book won’t help, but it’s an interesting read and so is the old Hofstadter book if you haven’t read it before.

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