Letters to the Editor
Education Week is to be congratulated for printing the commentary on "Distorting the Truth of Creation" (March 31), by Richard Bliss, even though the author, like the Sophists of old, "makes the worse appear the better reason."
The voice of reason as represented by Mr. Bliss is a camouflage for teaching religious beliefs under the guise of teaching science.
Implicit in the commentary is a hypothesis contrary to fact: that we are confronted by two "faiths"--a faith in evolution and a faith in a religious explanation of the origin of man, the character of the universe, and the intervention of a supernatural, omnipotent, and omniscient god in the affairs of the world and in the creation of its history.
We are not confronted by two faiths. Scientists do not "believe" (in the religious sense) in the speed of light, Einstein's theories, Darwin's theories, or the structure of the atom. All of these observations and descriptions of reality are constantly tested and revised according to how well they conform to an ongoing accumulation of evidence. Of course Mr. Bliss can cite scientists who "doubt" the "truth" of evolution--or for that matter of relativity or the shape of the sun. What is impressive is not their doubt--it is their duty to doubt, question, probe, and examine. What is impressive is that over the years the weight of evidence has more and more tended to support the various theories of evolution--that man's brain, for example, has evolved from lower and more ancient life forms, that he is related intimately to all other creatures, that he is a product of natural and explainable causes, and that the issue among men of science is not so much the general concept of evolution, but the rate of change and the natural forces that produced such change. (Creationists are prone to say about such statements, "Ah-hah! We told you the earth was only five or six thousand years old!" But the scientific debate is over events taking tens of thousands of years versus events taking millions of years.)
Religious faith, the belief in creation as a fact, is totally different from scientific speculation. Here we are speaking of those who know--not as a theory, but as a fact--that God created heaven and earth, man in his present form, woman in his image, Noah and his ark, and all the rest of it. (Including, they say, that Joshua made the sun stand still.)
Now if Mr. Bliss wants to rule out these religious beliefs and retreat to the position that what others observe as a natural process is, in fact, God's methodology in creating the world, we have no argument. No argument is possible. We are in the realm of mysticism. As we have no evidence to debate, we are not in the realm of science, but of faith. But this position is not the position of the "creationists" no matter how gently Mr. Bliss represents their position. These are the believers. And, as has been observed, the conflict is between men who have a great deal of evidence, but no absolute convictions about the nature of the universe (scientists) and men who have absolute convictions without any evidence (the creationists).
Children may be taught in school the truth that some men believe in a god (defined in an astonishingly wide variety of ways by Christians, to say nothing of the Jews, Buddhists, and Moslems, as the One who wound the original clock to the One whose eye is on the sparrow), others in gods, and others in tree spirits, elves, and fairies. Children may be taught the truth that some believe in the efficacy of ritual cannibalism while others put their trust in the potency of an amputated rabbit's foot. But they should certainly not be taught (in public schools) that these beliefs are true. They should especially not be taught that the belief in such things is the product of the scientific method or a scientific mind. It is not science. It is religion or, if you prefer, superstition. Neither have a place in the classroom other than as a study of social behavior.
No. Mr. Bliss is quite wrong. When men of science produce evidence that refutes our description of the natural world--whether that description be that of Pasteur or Mendel or Newton or Darwin or Einstein--scientists will not howl that their faith has been destroyed or protest that the laws of the universe or of God have been challenged. They will simply revise their views of the universe on the basis of the evidence. And [they will] continue to question, even as they heal the sick, feed the hungry, enlighten the ignorant, and provide us with hope for the future. For the evidence suggests that it is through science that these things happen, not through the faith and prayers of the devout that have gone unanswered through aeons of time though the sincerity of the grieving mother for the dying child could scarcely be doubted.
Keep your faith, Mr. Bliss. It is your right. But keep it out of our schools and our science. That right is ours.
Dr. John S. Clayton Chairman of the Board Academy for Research, Instruction, and Educational Systems Rockville, Md.
To the Editor:
It was with some disappointment that I read the interview with the president of Boston University, John Silber (April 7). I expected something more.
Instead of incisive analysis and insight, I obtained the usual litany of stereotypes and cliches that come easily to our academic critics. Indeed, some of Mr. Silber's comments suggest that he might benefit from an in-service course in critical thinking--learning not to generalize from a sample of one, for example.
Such commentary has been with us for some time. Perhaps the embattled system has done much better than some of our more prestigious academic "friends" care to admit.
William A. Kline Chairman, Department of Education Loyola University New Orleans
To the Editor:
Congratulations to Richard B. Bliss for his excellent response (Commentary, March 31) to the recent distortions advanced in the name of science.
Having read Education Week from cover to cover since subscribing a few months ago, I have been disturbed by the lack of intellectual honesty by those who disagree with the scientific creationists. The evolutionists seem to imply that evolution is provable but in reality it takes faith to believe in either creation by evolution or creation by a creator. In my opinion, it takes less faith for the latter than the former.
Ralph O. Lyons President, Southland Christian Schools Chula Vista, Calif.
To the Editor:
The two antituition tax-credit essays (Commentary) and the report of the recent meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers published in your April 7 issue impelled me to respond with the following observations.
Mr. Fege's assertions in his essay that the various tuition tax-credit proposals are "a subtly disguised trickle down program for the rich" ... "that would assure windfall payments to a select few" and "that would benefit only 11 percent of our more affluent population" are cut from whole cloth. Mr. Fege conveniently ignored the factual determination by the U.S. Census Bureau that 62.7 percent of American families that enroll their children in nongovernment schools have annual incomes of less than $25,000.
In his essay, Mr. Mitchell repeatedly asserts that a "successful" tuition tax-credit program would result in the "most committed" parents who are "most concerned with their children's education" withdrawing their children from government schools. This is, considering the source, an astounding condemnation of our public-school system. None of the pending tuition tax-credit proposals provides for a tax credit in excess of 50 percent of tuition paid. Why would a family that was satisfied with the education provided to their children in our government schools opt to take an action that would result in a net loss of $500 for every $1000 paid in tuition?
Mr. Mitchell's assertion that "it is likely that money to support tuition tax credits will come from cuts in other educational programs" is without foundation. Tax credits, per se, do not mean the granting of governmental funds to any entity, individual, or institution. Tax credits, for whatever purpose, are simply a manifestation of public policy whereby the taxing level of government, in recognition of a citizen's voluntary expenditure of personal funds to accomplish a purpose which, to some degree, benefits the entire society, allows that citizen to retain some of his/her own money rather than remit it in taxes.
I know of no one who would seriously contend that the education provided to our young citizens enrolled in nongovernment schools, voluntarily paid for by their parents, does not in some degree benefit the entire society. Certainly, that societal benefit at least equals, if not exceeds, that produced by activities for which tax credits are already provided in the Internal Revenue Code, e.g., political contributions, installation of energy-saving devices in our houses, and so forth. There is not now, and probably never will be, any appreciable effect on federal funding of government education programs attributable to a minor shift, up or down, in the amount of federal revenue generated through individual income taxes.
In the news article on the Council of Chief State School Officers meeting, Wilson C. Riles, the council's president and California's superintendent of public instruction, is quoted as follows: "The Administration has moved in the direction of dismantling the Education Department and drastically altering the federal role in education without seeking a national consensus of what people want that role to be." I can't help but wonder where Mr. Riles was during the 1980 Presidential campaign. Throughout that campaign, Mr. Reagan made no secret of his determination, if elected, to disband the Carter political payoff to the National Education Association, i.e., the Education Department.
The overwhelming "national consensus" that made Mr. Reagan our President spoke volumes about what the majority of our citizens want the federal role in government-controlled education to be.
Don Dumeyer State Coordinator Tuition Tax Credit Campaign Louisville, Ky.
To the Editor:
Situated as we are--just across the Potomac from where our laws are made and national policies set--we, of course, do not escape the constant sound and fury of the battles of our political leaders and all those who seek to influence them.
More than anyone else, I believe, we read and hear about the necessity for more money for education (or at least enough to keep us going to do the job we have been doing). We read and hear about battles over a Department of Education, or a foundation, or some yet unannounced structure, and are treated to the pros and cons of a myriad of issues.
As a general music teacher Fairfax County, Va., I am at the end of the line when the effects of all these policies are felt. Let me tell you how it appears from the low end of the totem pole.
Under an inordinate amount of public criticism--some of it by uninformed persons, much of it by persons who know, or should know, better--we are doing our job and, by-and-large, doing it well. Contrary to what you hear, teachers "do care like they used to," and this shows up consistently in the million, untold "success stories" of graduates who go out into the world and fill a useful place in our society.
It is not a "9 to 3" job as commonly assumed. After that dismissal bell you can find teachers in our classrooms or homes preparing lessons, marking examinations or other papers, planning tests that are fair and that, at the same time, reveal those points where we must render a student extra help.
Teachers confer with parents about their children's school problems--and often about home problems as well. We complete records and forms ad infinitum. We attend school events and go to PTA meetings. There are a host of nonlearning activities that occupy our time, but which must be done because they are connected with learning. Although we didn't hire on as policemen, we find ourselves doing "hall duty," which includes monitoring those who pass through the school and challenging them, if necessary. A six-foot tall intruder confronting a five-foot-one teacher gives pause for thought, if not retreat.
We are also obliged to check bathrooms, monitor the lunchroom, collect the money for milk and the inevitable worthy causes. About half of us eat our lunch while supervising students.
Yet we like our jobs and want our jobs. We like our jobs because it is a rare teacher that doesn't like children and because we enjoy seeing an idea or a concept develop and "catch on," so to speak.
You can read about declining test scores, disciplinary problems and absenteeism and reading deficiencies. The fact is that, under great handicaps, teachers are tackling these problems--and winning. We are not winning uniformly across the nation, but we are winning.
There are many statistics to support this. Those who don't choose to believe will not believe them, no matter how well buttressed the argument. The proof of the pudding does not lie, finally, in the statistics. It lies in the finished product. Public-school graduates continue to make this nation what it is. They continue to lead in every field of endeavor. They continue to outshine in their achievement the products of every other free-world nation.
Lynne Ellison Music teacher Stenwood Elementary School Vienna, Va.