Published Online: March 29, 2005
Published in Print: March 30, 2005, as Mixing ‘Private Truths’ With the Public’s Business


Mixing ‘Private Truths’ With the Public’s Business

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To the Editor:

I found Andrew Coulson’s essay arguing for school choice as a way of dodging an evolution controversy to be both thought-provoking and deeply flawed ("Ending the Evolutionary War," Commentary, March 9, 2005.)

In the first place, there is no significant controversy among the world’s scientists about the basic tenets of evolution. The theory holds its own alongside the theory of gravity or atomic theory. Mr. Coulson seems, in addition, to view truth—or Truth—as something “inherently political,” with details of school curricula properly determined by “elected and appointed government officials.” Presumably, such officials could enhance a history course by voting on whether or not God really did want Pope Urban to declare the First Crusade. This is not unlike the position of parents who try to coach basketball from the cheap seats, giving private opinion precedence over expertise.

Mr. Coulson’s argument hinges on his view that “in a pluralistic society, there are countless different and incompatible worldviews” and that “a monolithic school system ... has failed to forge common ground [and] has also bred animosity and discord.”

It’s not the job of schools to confirm or deny pluralistic worldviews. It’s the job of schools to teach students to think rationally and empirically so that they can understand reality in the most objective way possible.

That’s the “common ground” that the Founding Fathers—children of the Enlightenment—sought when they separated church and state. They understood that the public arena is not the place for pluralistic private Truths; likewise, the private arena is not the place for universal consensus.

It is our right to hold whatever private beliefs we wish. And it is our responsibility to keep our private beliefs out of the public’s business. Public schools, legislatures, and all public agencies should be free to do their work rationally, without distortion by anyone’s private Truths.

Jim Haas
Master of Arts in Teaching
Webster University-Kansas City
Kansas City, Mo.

Vol. 24, Issue 29, Page 35

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