Going Soft in the Head

My friend Garth wrote yesterday about his distress at a study from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that more than a third of high school students believe the First Amendment goes too far in safeguarding our freedoms of expression, the press, religion, assembly, and to petition the government for redress of our grievances (good luck with that last one).

In a way, it’s old news that a lot of Americans don’t hold with the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. But Garth speculates about the trend:

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the growing anti-intellectualism in the context of the voting majority, but I hadn’t realized that it had infected children’s minds as well. I guess it only makes sense that fundamental misunderstandings about our government would be passed on. My worry is that this is only a trend that will worsen over time as these teenagers grow up, and that our government will be quickly taken over by those who would seek to exploit that ignorance, as opposed to fighting it.”

I think he’s right on about the current of anti-intellectualism and the trouble it’s bringing. A more disturbing piece of evidence is presented in a New York Times story today about how many science teachers are avoiding explicit discussion of evolution in their classrooms to avoid controversy.

” ‘The most common remark I’ve heard from teachers was that the chapter on evolution was assigned as reading but that virtually no discussion in class was taken,’ said Dr. John R. Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, an evangelical Christian and a member of Alabama’s curriculum review board who advocates the teaching of evolution. Teachers are afraid to raise the issue, he said in an e-mail message, and they are afraid to discuss the issue in public.”

And the reason teachers are fearful of talking about evolution is that, Dr. Christy aside, conservative Christians are waging a war against it because the idea doesn’t pass muster with their interpretation of the Bible. You sort of expect that the anti-evolutionists, who are free under the First Amendment to propound any hare-brained ideas as the word of their god, are the same people who feel most strongly that the First Amendment goes too far.

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