L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

10 November 2006 Blog Home : November 2006 : Permalink

Science and (Home-)Schooling

Apropos the recent Neandertal fun, GNXP links to a creationist comment at Dean Esmay's and then to a New Scientist article in the current issue about American Evangelical Home Schoolers and how bad their science books are. Also today, as Tim and Tim note, the UK government is debating whether to make sure that the British stay in school until they are 18. The Wapping liar also has a great piece about the quality of teaching in British schools that is prety damn depressing (and one suspects that you could write a very similar article about schools in the US and elsewhere).

There is by golly a link here, although it may not seem like it.

I am, on the whole, very wary of the idea of religious education be it rote learning of the Koran in a Madrassah in Lahore, part of home schooling in Texas or Utah or anything else. Even though, having said that, I benefited (C of E primary school, Christian oriented minor public school) from a lightly religious education. The reason why, IMO, my education with its religious tinge was better than the usual run of the mill British education was not anything to do with religion per se, it was basically to do with the creation of a high quality, disciplined learning environment and good teachers. I suspect it is no coincidence that across the third world, not to mention the USA, catholic schools tend to have a good reputation compared to the state schools they compete with.

And in that last sentence there is the critical word that ties it all together. compete.

Competition is why I don't feel particularly threatened by Christian funduhmentalists gaining control of US government. You ban to many things in the USA and even the most pacifist lefty will reflect that there is a 2nd amendment. It may well be that abortion can be almost banned, it may well be that the US graduates fewer biosciences PhDs and that they don't work in the US. Big deal. From a cultural perspective neither is going to cause the end of the world as we know it(TM). And it won't becuase the fundamentalists all instinctively understand economics and capitalism and hence that "incentives matter". Evolution is merely a biological example of "incentives matter". The way hard science gets figurted out and then turned into practical engineering works the same way. The sorts of people who home school their kids and get them sent to Patrick Henry College will have taught them maths and some of the less controversial bits of science (e.g. Newtonian physics) and the scientific method that helped Newton and other 17th/18th century natural philosophers discover the basics of physics, chemistry, biology etc. still applies today. Whether a PHC graduate does or doesn't believe in "evolution", he certainly believes in antibiotics and to be honest anyone who does a little studying of MRSA and the like soon gets the feeling that whether or not humans evolved from something, bacterial lurgies evolve all the time. Smart people will eventually accept the evidence in front of them if it becomes important. Because if they don't they die, which is, if you like, evolution in action.

I am occasionally slightly concerned about the really fundamentalist regious types such as the brainwashed madrassah graduates who seem to want to make me a Moslem and/or kill me but that is about my personal survival and nothing more. As far as destroying (my) Western culture goes I'm not at all concerned. If push comes to shove they'll learn what their fellow nutters have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, namely that fanatical soldiers are merely targets for the better trained western armies. As we note from shit holes like Gaza or Somalia uneducated people can't operate complex machinery. That means that they will lose against militaries that can.

A soceity that is full of poor uneducated folk is only a threat to rich educated ones if the rich educated ones let it be so.

But a rich educated society can turn out to be just as religious and superstitious as all the religious societies it laughs at. Teachers who try to remove competition from schools are probably doing their students as much harm as the rote-learning madrassah is because at least in the madrassah you get to learn that people are different in ability. We can argue about whether the difference is important or whether we should discriminate people that are different, but at last we have to accept that there are differences in people's talents and that, contrary to educational dogma, you usually only get hired for a job if you are good at it. Firing the crap teachers and paying their salaries to the good ones would probably help education more than almost anythng else, although insisting the people pay (via vouchers or whatever) so that they can value what they get has to be good too.

Curiously enough the idiots who worry about madrassahs and home-schooled christian fundamentalists tend to be the ones who can't cope with the idea of competition. Perhaps that is why they prefer to ban things by law instead of letting them be lose in the market of ideas.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin