“Let the Students Decide for Themselves”: Or, Don McLeroy Is Full of What Makes the Grass Grow Green in Texas
I recommend that everyone listen to the interview with Don McLeroy in last week’s episode of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.
I also recommend that you keep breakables safely out of reach and have your favorite antacid tabs at hand. (Not the homeopathic ones.) Maybe also booze if that helps.
McLeroy is a creationist who was appointed to the Texas State Board of Ed by Rick Perry, himself a rancid asswipe of staggering proportions*. The interview was hard for me to get through, in part because I am from Texas and McLeroy’s voice is the voice of people there who think and talk like him and say those same horrible, horrible things, and I have known those people. Too many of those people. Also, though, because the things the voice says are so impossibly, willfully stupid, and would be such in any voice.
The particular stupid idea I want to address today is McLeroy’s repeated specious claim that including “weaknesses” of evolutionary theory in biology textbooks encourages students to examine all of the evidence and make up their own minds.
First of all, I do not believe for a hot nanosecond that this guy wants to empower young people to thwart authority and derive their own conclusions about the world. I really want to know if he employs this inclusive pedagogy when he teaches Sunday School at the Grace Bible Church. Let’s see how this idea of exposing students to all possible views on subjects informs the academic mission of Grace Bible Church, shall we?
Based upon the distinctive values, strengths, and opportunities of Grace Bible Church, God has directed us to focus our efforts on…
“RAISING UP NEXT GENERATION LEADERS TO REACH OUR WORLD FOR CHRIST”
To accommplish this mission we seek to be …
a university/family church
that exists to … worship God and multiply worshippers throughout the world
that is empowered by … God’s Spirit, Word and grace in Christ
and by focusing on …
the strategic value of equipping university students,
the power of integrating mature families with university students,
and the obligation of world missions
If our ultimate goal is that people would worship God everywhere in the world, then the greatest contribution our church can make is through unifying strong family and university ministries around the common goal of raising up a surplus of godly college age servant-leaders who can impact our city, nation, and world for Christ. We firmly believe that students are the future leaders of business, government, religion, science, education, and most importantly they will lead in the arena of ideas. Students have been the impetus for the great revivals of history. They are largely receptive to the gospel, or at least willing to dialogue about any topic, including God. Once saved, students are the group most receptive to devoting their entire lives to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Uh huh. I’m sure the lessons where students are provided evidence of other gods and of godless worldviews so they can MAKE UP THEIR OWN MINDS is on another page and I just didn’t find it. (Also, one petty thing: “accommplish.”)
Beyond the shameless mendacity of the claim, though, it’s a wrongheaded idea in and of itself. Students taking high school biology will be getting an introductory level education in evolutionary theory. They will not, at that point in their education trajectory, have enough data at their disposal to play Sooper Scientist. How long did it take Darwin to reach and support his conclusions, twenty years? A high school biology unit is not designed to give students that much minute information; it’s designed to teach them what the theory is and what it means and why it’s important.
McLeroy and others like him contort the effort to enrich students as critical thinkers into some bizarre “my opinion matters just as much as any expert’s opinion” pretzel of solipsism. My situation is slightly different since I teach literature, but even the arts have bodies of knowledge. I tell my students that they do not have to like what I’m teaching just because I like it. They are also not required to reach the same interpretations that I do about any particular text. HOWEVER, I am there teaching them canonical (and some fringe but still published) trends of thought and interpretation regarding these works, and I do require that they learn those and understand them and demonstrate that they have engaged them in their readings. Literature doesn’t appear in a vacuum, and neither does criticism; the flexibility of creative thinking does not mean you get to say that Wordsworth’s “Intimations Ode” is really about your cat. Not for class, anyway, unless you have some damn good peer reviewed evidence.
It is crucial, though, that we know what we are facing as skeptical, secular educators, so I urge you to listen to the interview. Also, check out the film The Revisionaries, which McLeroy appears in.
*Opinions expressed by DrShell are the sole property and responsibility of DrShell and not to be construed as reflections of anything anyone else at School of Doubt might ever say or think or condone. Even though Rick Perry sucks so aggressively that DrShell has difficulty imagining other people not recognizing him as a rancid asswipe. He is so awful, you guys, for real.