You know, it’s funny. Christians are often perceived and represented as brainwashed. They refuse “the facts.” They shelter their kids from “scientific knowledge.” Their “faith” is just another word for “willful ignorance.”
Or so they say.
The “they” I refer to, in this case, is the educational bureaucracy of this country. It dominates public education and extends, often, into the college level. Over the last few months, I’ve heard some news stories on NPR that indicate just how enslaved this entity is to a faith perspective of its own, and just how much “education” amounts to brainwashing.
This is one of the stories I heard: When Should You Introduce a Child to Evolution? The reporter reviews a new picture book called Grandmother Fish, which purportedly introduces children 3-7 years old to “evolutionary concepts.” The conclusion makes it clear, however, that this is not about microevolution or species adaptation, but a secular theory of origins about which its proponents feel a sense of urgency:
We all know by now that more than 40 percent of Americans say that God created human beings in our present form in the last 10,000 years. That is, 4 in 10 Americans reject the knowledge that anchors our scientific understanding of the world and all its creatures. That dismal situation cries out for big efforts in science education and… there’s hard evidence to show that the storybook route can be effective in kids’ mastery of evolutionary concepts.
The phrasing alone conveys a very mixed message. On the one hand we have sciencey lingo like “evolutionary concepts” and “scientific understanding of the world.” On the other hand, we have the notion that a complex scientific theory can be “mastered” by children younger than 7.
As long as we are wondering how complete such an “introduction” can be, another question arises: Does this picture book acknowledge any of the holes in evolutionary theory? — Controversies over dating methods, say? Or lack of intermediary fossils? Or does it represent one highly tentative way of understanding nature as the only way, the “proven” way?
This sure sounds like brainwashing to me. In fact, given the target age group, and given the explicitly stated goal of rebutting the alternative faith perspective — the one that does not rule out God, because in fact there is nothing in any of the evidence available to us that does so — how could we conclude anything else but that this is an effort to brainwash young children in the name of “education”?
But young children, it seems, are not the only ones in need of such “enlightenment.” What about college students? When I was a college student myself, and when I taught college, part of the goal of education was to present the knowledge in different disciplines, teach students how to access and evaluate that knowledge for themselves, and work to synthesize it into a coherent big picture. Education was about equipping them to join the “great conversation” for themselves, and to make a contribution that reflected an awareness of the moral dimensions of any given subject.
But there is another view, it seems — the “information control” approach. And not surprisingly, Bill Gates is funding it. This story detailing the notion of “Big History” discusses the approach of (ironically enough) Professor Christian, who believes the teaching of history should begin in the highly theoretical and unknown shadows of prehistory. “Big history” began as a college course at San Diego State, and thanks to $10 million from the ubiquitous Mr. Gates, it has been taken into the high school classroom as well:
Students like the way it weaves different disciplines, from cosmology to biology, into a coherent whole. A modern origin story, Christian calls it, told through the prism of science. Big history expands not only the scale of history but also the sort of questions historians and their students are encouraged to ask… His lectures are peppered with phrases such as Goldilocks conditions and smoothie state, plucked from the lexicon of big history. It’s a dizzying pace, 14 billion years of history in a single semester. Humans do play a role, of course, but a relatively small one.
It begins with “the Big Bang” and extends to today. One wonders what of any value could actually be learned with such an impossibly broad focus — in time, and in discipline. History, science, and religion all are interwoven in the content of the course. Yet it purports to make all the connections for students, making claims about nothing short of the meaning of life.
Its critics argue that this is not history at all, much less “Big History.” Its supporters argue that it is popular, so how could it not be wonderful?
Of course, it carries its own set of assumptions, which are apparently hammered into kids’ heads relentlessly enough to create existentialists before the end of the semester, as one fifteen-year-old demonstrates:
It made me think a lot more about just the whole universe itself because it all started from the big bang, of course. And when you think about it, he was saying that it would all come to an end soon. So when you really think about it, what are we doing here? It just makes you think that really everything will be meaningless soon.
Of what possible value is this? And how is it anything short of brainwashing when, instead of teaching in-depth knowledge of specific information within a definable historical timeframe, it presents students with a philosophical interpretation of an inconceivably sprawling range of experience, beginning in the purely speculative era of pre-history?
Above all, both stories make me wonder when we elected billionaires and elites to define what our citizenry should believe. This goes far beyond teaching facts and information, and it fails entirely to teach people to think and learn for themselves.
Here is Merriam-Webster’s definition of brainwashing:
a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas
persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship
It seems obvious that we have brainwashing, in both senses of the word, promoted in the name of public education. The result, if the fifteen-year-old’s conclusion is any indication, should mobilize parents to step into the fray and protect the humanity and hope of our children.