Well Known Biases

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Category Archives: Education

Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Kansas Embarrassing Itself Yet Again…

It appears that I may soon have to start adding “Yes, that Kansas” when I tell people where I’m from.

My fine(ish) state has managed to avoid embarrassing spotlighting for a while (well, sort of, anyway…), but it seems this situation may soon change, as the state science standards are coming up for review. You may recall how this went last time, and it’s likely as not that we’ll have a similar kerfuffle this time ’round.

Ken Willard, who would like to assure you that he’s definitely not a “crackpot,” views the standards currently being proposed as flawed, because they “ignore evidence against evolution, don’t respect religious diversity and promote secular humanism, which precludes God or another supreme being in considering how the universe works,” which seems like a roundabout way of saying the standards don’t give the desired prominance to his views that “a wizard did it.”

Sadly, I’ve yet to track down the full text of Mr. Willard’s letter. I’d very much like to read it, though in all likelihood it will just make me mumble to myself in frustration, as I really don’t see the alleged impasse between evolutionary theory and faith. Probably because I’m not a Biblical literalist.

Anyway, I’ll be keeping an eye on this and commenting further. With any luck at all, the Great State of Kansas will come off looking just as silly as we did five years ago.

Information concerning Kansas’ science standards can be found here: http://www.ksde.org/Default.aspx?tabid=4972

Public Education and Social Control

Austin Carroll, a (former) student at Garrett High School in Indiana, was expelled for a post he made on his personal Twitter account. There seems to be some lack of clarity of whether or not he accessed Twitter from his home computer or a school computer. In either case, it appears that the school’s computer system is able to (and apparently does) track posting’s from students’ accounts.

Where to even begin? Stories such as this angry up my blood before I’ve even begun to unpack and examine the implications.

Naturally, if the student is using a school computer, the school is within their rights to regulate the manner in which their computers are used. Yet even if we accept the school’s position that Carroll accessed Twitter from one of their machines, that still leaves several issues. Firstly, isn’t expulsion for a bit of relatively harmless profanity rather harsh? It seems like the sort of transgression which could be addressed with lesser punishments. And if expulsion is on the table for an offense such as this, one would hope that this is clearly spelled out in the usage policy. I’m sure there are provisions for punishments “up to and including expulsion,” but I somehow doubt that any of the students would have seriously expected expulsion to be leveled for cursing. It seems more like a thing you bring to bear if a student has made threats of violence.

Now let’s consider what it means for us if the school is mistaken (or, to be somewhat cynical, misrepresenting the facts). If the school is allowed to regulate speech in cases where a student is neither using school property, nor engaging in threatening speech or speech related to illegal acts, then the school is asserting total control over students’ speech, and the students effectively have “privileges” to speak, and not “rights.” Privileges which can be revoked at the school’s pleasure, if a student expresses themselves in a manner which offends the empowered school officials. The rights of minors are of course already curtailed, but given Carroll is a senior in high school, and it is nearly April, it is reasonable to assume he could easily have already turned eighteen, and therefore is legally an adult. To condense and make explicit, if Carroll is eighteen, and had posted his tweet from home, the school district is asserting the right to punish adults for (and thus control) their private speech, based not upon public-safety necessity, but simply upon what they feel to be appropriate.

Numerous locales have various “anti-bullying” legislation either enacted or in the works, which would regulate both what occurs at the school, and what occurs outside of school. Most of these seem to be overly-broad, to the point of chilling what is, or should be, protected free speech. The Carroll expulsion appears to lack even the flimsy “public safety” framing of these statutes, resting wholly on the school administrators’ sense of propriety. Happily the student body of Garrett High School appears to have reacted to the expulsion quite poorly. But if we as a society roll over on issues such as this, we set rather unnerving precedents, confirming to those in these positions of power that control of our private speech is a thing they can do. It invites authoritarianism. Those who would act as our censors should be called out, shunned, and their power delegitimized.

(I considered posting a link to Garrett High School’s website, but as I cannot be certain of directing you to the correct place, I shall refrain.)