Or how to kill public education

David Hoppe

OK, I think I finally get it about intelligent design. I have to admit that this whole debate has really been confusing to me. Apparently, there are people who want to teach kids that science doesn't necessarily account for everything in life. Fine. Except they want to teach this in science class, which is kind of like saying in an English class, "You know, there are some things that just can't be put into words ... " True enough, but try using that on a grammar test. The kid sitting next to you may think you're pretty clever, the teacher, on the other hand, may conclude that you're not exactly college material.

No, the idea of teaching kids that science is bunk in science class doesn't make sense. Not if you want kids to actually learn anything about science they might be able to use later in life - like, for example, in college. Scientists, who should know something about this - I mean, they've only managed to figure out things like the polio vaccine, antibiotics and the A-bomb - say so. So do most science teachers. Even kids agree. After the school board in Kansas voted to make the teaching of intelligent design mandatory in Kansas schools, several students who were on hand were quoted as saying they were glad they were graduating this year because they were afraid schools wouldn't be as good from now on.

And that's the point.

Intelligent design represents the latest gambit in a long-running campaign to kill public education. This campaign has already had a remarkable amount of success in Indiana. Nevertheless, here, as elsewhere in the U.S., a critical mass of public school advocates has managed to keep public schools alive. Indianapolis is a good example.

In Indianapolis, the public schools system has endured the destruction of neighborhood schools through court-ordered bussing, white flight to the suburbs, cutbacks in personnel and programs like arts education, the imposition of punitive testing programs in place of actual academic achievement and, earlier this year, state-imposed budget cuts on urban districts. On top of it all, the system has also had to put up with relentless bad-mouthing from the local media and business leaders, who find it easier to complain about "the crisis" in public schools than to address the issues of race, poverty and class that have made too many of our schools theaters of American cultural dysfunction.

Thanks to dedicated teachers and parents who refuse to give up, it is still possible for a kid to receive a good education in Indianapolis Public Schools. Granted, you have to know how to play the system - that is, refuse to take no or can't for an answer - but if you stay engaged with the process, there are excellent options available. At least there were. My son graduated from Broad Ripple High and I can assure you there is no part of me that secretly wishes he had attended Park Tudor, Brebeuf or Cathedral.

But I have to say I'm glad my son graduated when he did. This January, when our state legislators convene for another round of the whack-a-mole game they call "the people's business," making intelligent design part of the science curriculum in Indiana public schools will be on the agenda. Rep. Bruce Borders, a Republican from Jasonville, says he will file the legislation. "It's a passionate issue for me, personally," he has said. Recently, House Speaker Brian Bosma, another Republican, met with Carl Baugh, host of the Trinity Broadcasting Network show Creationism in the 21st Century and founder and director of something called The Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas. In this case, the creationism they were talking about had to do with legislation - how to make it so science teachers are required to teach intelligent design.

If such legislation passes, I think it's safe to say it will serve as the last nail in the coffin of public education in Indiana. Parents with any concern for their kids' futures will be hard-pressed to justify sending their kids to schools where science is being debunked in science classes. Those who can afford it will bail out. This will bring the right-wing dream of turning education into a business opportunity for entrepreneurs a large step closer to reality. Public schools, meanwhile, will become another branch of the welfare system, like Medicaid.

The Republicans driving this legislation are the same crew who led the way for a ban against gay marriage last winter. So just as our Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, proclaims that Job No. 1 is the rejuvenation of the state's economy, his colleagues have made it their goal to make Indiana look as much like Mississippi as possible. Now there's a business model.

The problem is that America has 50 states. Many of these states will continue to believe that, whatever peoples' religious convictions, it's best to teach science in science class. That way, businesses that rely on science and people who know what science is will be more likely to build their laboratories and employ professionals and pay taxes there. Mitch Daniels was missing in action when the demagogues in his party made Indiana inhospitable for gay people. It will be interesting to see what he does now that his pals want to do the same thing for science - and public education.

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