Rick Moran at Right Wing Nut House is moved to complain about the declining understanding of science in our country, which is a good start. Waking up the wingnuts to the fact that science is doing poorly in the US is a good thing, far better than the usual science denial we get from that side of the political divide. However, he takes exception to the idea that a good part of the blame belongs to the religious and to the far right. Instead, he blames the failure on schools run by Democrats.
It goes without saying that those school systems — mostly located in large cities and the rural south — don’t need a belief in God to keep them from understanding evolution. All they need is local government (run by Democrats for the most part) to run the schools so incompetently that students can graduate while lacking the scientific fundamentals.
All I can say is Moran obviously has not read the paper.
It does a deeper analysis of the data than you’d guess from just the ranking in the table. They looked for correlates to the failure to appreciate evolution, and the strongest predictors were 1) belief in a personal god, and 2) affiliation with the conservative wing of the Republican party. This isn’t my interpretation: it’s what the data in the paper indicates, and the authors conclude by naming “transformation of traditional geographically and economically based political parties into religiously oriented ideological coalitions” as the source of a major problem. Moran is simply ignoring the results of the research to invent a scapegoat, these imaginary public schools run by Democrats.
Let’s take a look at these problematic school districts. Dover: dominated by Republicans who led them down the ruinous creationist path, voted out and replaced by Democrats who ended the debacle (note that many of those Democrats were Republicans who changed party affiliation to run against the creationist clowns; this paper does not say all Republicans are idiots, only that the far right wing is). Kansas: does anyone seriously believe that Kansas schools are dominated by left wingers? The state school board is a Republican shop, and what the recent election did was put moderate Republicans into the election over far right wing nuts. Texas: a big state that unfortunately dictates the content of science textbooks nationwide, and it is a constant struggle there to keep the Republicans of the radical religious right from gutting our textbooks further. Is Terri Leo a Democrat, do you think? How about Mel Gabler?
The public schools are an awful mess, underfunded, struggling to make ends meet, and it is true that many inner city schools are so pinched and decrepit that it’s difficult to teach anything, let alone sophisticated subjects like upper-level biology. Blaming that on Democrats is absurd, though, when in every case I’ve encountered it isn’t the Democratic members of the school boards who are rising up and demanding that we cut out evolution, or sex ed, or international baccalaureate programs, or whatever latest bit of reality offends them. It isn’t Democrats who led the charge for the dead-on-arrival NCLB act. I agree that we desperately need to improve public school education, but to claim that the party that most reliably works to do just that is to blame for failings imposed on it by the party that wants to abolish public school education is absurd.
Now I’m not making a blanket assumption that Democrats always have been and always will be the best leaders of education. I suspect that one reason there’s very little anti-evolution activity by Democrats is because of that polarizing ideological divide mentioned above: the strong anti-evolution sentiment on the Republican side drives many Democrats to be anti-anti-evolution, even if they aren’t any more aware of the scientific evidence. But I’m afraid that all of the most vocal opposition to the teaching of evolution has come from the religious right and from Republicans, two labels that are becoming increasingly inseparable.
One last bit of logic to counter Moran’s claim that the fault belongs to our
public school system. The data in the Miller et al. paper clearly points to religiosity and right-wing political affiliation as strong predictors of anti-evolution sentiment. If the actual source of that sentiment is from poor public schooling, a correlation that the paper didn’t directly test, we’d expect that those groups that are most likely to home school or send their kids to private school would show a weaker predisposition to anti-evolutionary thinking.
Now, who is more likely to send their kids to a public school—a middle-class, moderate to liberal Democrat, or born-again right-wing Republican?