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Knowledge threatens the ignorant - R.H. Joseph

A reader recently e-mailed me, outraged at the attempt by State School Superintendent Cathy Cox and Gov. Sonny Perdue to undermine the teaching of history in Georgia secondary schools.

She wrote because of my column addressing the dumbing down of Shakespeare and made reference to the Republican school superintendent's effort to remove the word "evolution" from biology textbooks as well.

She did not address efforts by the same political/religious cabal to deny students exposure to the essence of cosmology, the established scientific data collectively referred to as the Standard Model describing the origin of the perceived universe. You may know it as Big Bang Theory.

For the moment we will ignore the larger issue: Why is the retreat into ignorance at the forefront of the Republican educational agenda?

Instead, let us consider the function of an informative historical education.

Black History Month, for example, was established because, until relatively recently, a perusal of most high school textbooks revealed an extraordinarily parochial bias. And they still do, as a matter of fact.

Bad enough a significant percentage of our citizens were denied historical consequence, what is worse, the entirety of our young were denied any sense of context: How the various streams of human culture feed into the ocean that is the human chronicle.

It is said humanity speaks three languages: science, religion and art. To understand us as a species the young need to appreciate how the world's major cultures (at least) articulate these interpretations of existence.

Why, for example, of the two ancient, sophisticated cultures, did the ancient Greeks adopt mathematics in their pursuit of a truth presumed to be located amidst the physical whilst the Chinese asserted truth is to be intuited, the laws characterizing the physical being merely paradigmatic and assimilated empirically?

In appreciating this significant historical circumstance kids might have a better perspective on why many in the West feel themselves forever separated from truth while other cultures express no such conundrum. Further, they would have an opportunity to question whether a quest for truth within the physical is justifiable.

Such a question would in turn allow students to reconsider the alleged difference between two of the three languages: science and religion. Many in the American culture, the religious faithful, believe truth to have already manifested physically while scientists assert their revelation regarding physical truth will soon be characterized in the language of mathematical formulae.

Both groups wait.

Is it any accident the clearly selective nature of the education of our young denies an objective perspective of this interesting reflection of human needs?

By the same token, even as faith is lauded within American culture, how frequently are the manifold objects of faith acknowledged in the classroom? The awareness of the arbitrary nature of the commitment of faith is more important to the development of a well-rounded human being than the assertion that faith, in and of itself, is estimable.

An appreciation of faith in a global, historical context would do much to enlighten the young yet the conscious act is ordinarily associated with a single group. Once again, in denying our young an historical context we relegate them to the shortsightedness of parochialism.

Such parochialism does not permit students to objectively assess the assertion that the desire for individual freedom is innate. They are denied exposure to cultures reveling in collective identity, whether within the lineage organization or the state.

The majority of Americans support most efforts to impose our sense of human values upon the rest of the world in an uninformed presumption that our perspective represents the will of nature or the will of God. They have never been taught otherwise. Our textbooks reflect this conceit as they reflect our other cultural (and racial, and religious) biases.

Conservatives despise relativity for it denies their declaration of being the sole arbiters of truth. This is as true for scientists as it is for the religious (and the artistic academy as well).

The more the young are exposed to the historical continuum of cultural intransigence, its effects upon a thousand civilizations in a thousand eras, the more they are likely to challenge its manifestation in our own time. They become a danger to the inflexible.

History demonstrates the more access conservatives have to power the greater the restrictions placed upon change and the dissemination of knowledge. They censor or attempt to extinguish dialogue in all three languages: science, art and religion.

R.H. Joseph is a longtime employee of the News Daily. His column regularly appears on Wednesdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 252, or by e-mail at rjoseph@news-daily.com.