Stuff It, Perfesser: The DINE Response

Cross-posted from Do I Need Evolution

What do we do when we can’t agree?  Evolution, US History, sex, prayer . . . there’s a lot we can’t agree about.  A few days back, I asked what a historian like me should do when challenged and insulted.  Should we fight back? Or try to understand why we’ve been insulted and make some connections between disagreeing sides?  Prajwal Kulkarni of the must-read Do I Need Evolution has offered a response:

I can understand why both historians and scientists get angry and feel they must fight. But to fight or not to fight is not the only question. How we fight matters as whether we fight. It’s possible to fight fairly and treat your opponents with respect, something sorely missing with creationists.

Scientists and educators themselves disagree which topics in science are critical for people to learn, and especially non-scientists. Moreover, pretty much everyone agrees that there are many paths to science literacy. Since the experts don’t think evolution is absolutely necessary, and since there are many different ways to cultivate science appreciation and literacy, “fighting” over evolution seems particularly inappropriate.

History is different. Adam can comment more authoritatively, but I get the impression historians agree on a canon that everyone should be exposed to. There also aren’t easy substitutions in history education. You can’t legitimately teach mid-19th century US history and avoid the civil war. But as medical schools all over the world demonstrate, you can teach biology and avoid evolution. “Fighting” might actually be a more appropriate response for history. And even then, we can make sure to to fight fairly and respectfully.

Living in a democracy requires us to draw these types of lines. When it comes to public education, it may be okay to concede on evolution but not history.

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9 Comments

  1. The DICE site makes for an excellent addition to your own Dr. Laats. Thanks.

    Reply
  2. I never did get a reply to my question on your post about the flak you received. Did thousands of slaves fight for the Confederacy? I honestly don’t know the answer to that. I assume not, because the plantation owners surely did not see a need to engage slaves to fight, since there were so many whites that wanted to go to war for the South, and surely the plantation owners needed the slaves to keep on their required labor in the fields. How does one verify any history textbook, nonfiction book, or article? Glenn Beck touts David Barton as a great historian, but I’ve also seen him completely dismissed. Any guide for the history ignorant among us?

    Reply
    • Sheila, This is the $64,000 question!
      As far as historians can tell, there were not thousands of slaves fighting for the Confederacy. In a period generally rich with sources, there is no record of such a thing. There IS a record of debate about the issue among Confederate elites. Especially near the end of the war, some leaders suggested arming slaves. The suggestion was shot down, though, with a firmness that–to me, anyhoo–disproves the later myth of the armed slaves.
      Your tougher question is the one that has got me thinking. Indeed, that was the question that made me feel like a mainstream biologist. How does one tell the good history or science from the bad? Especially when neither side will trust the expert credentials of the other? For instance, I got an email recently from Bill Ames, the conservative activist in Texas who is pushing for more neo-Confederate myth in Texas history textbooks. He noted that I received my “indoctrination” from “Marxist Madison,” so it was no surprise I believed the voodoo history of mainstream academic historians. Sure enough, neo-Confederates have books and articles that purport to “prove” their points. They won’t listen to folks like me who earned their history credentials at mainstream schools. Precisely because I’m an “expert,” in other words, I’m not worth listening to.
      This is the syndrome that seems so reminiscent of the creation/evolution debates. How are we supposed to know whom to believe? My instinct is to always be skeptical of ideas that seem to simply confirm our own notions. Especially if they seem wonderfully convenient. For example, I recently expressed my suspicion of a journalist who seemed to conclude a little too glibly that the conservative Christianity on tap at Patrick Henry College must contribute to a culture of sexual assault. Many secular liberals want to believe such things about “fundamentalist” schools, but that means we must be extra-careful not simply to assume wild accusations are accurate.

      Reply
      • Thanks. I read your blog post on the New Republic article about Patrick Henry College. I’m not sure I agree with what your take away was. I didn’t see it as PHC fostering an atmosphere of rape, but more along the lines of how difficult it is for the women who come forward.

        I suppose when trying to determine what’s true and what’s not true in history, I have to compare and compare and compare some more.

      • I agree that the point of the New Republic article was that women at Patrick Henry found themselves accused when they came forward to report sexual assault. But I think there are two corollaries. Blaming the victim encourages an atmosphere of sexual assault by allowing aggressive male sexuality and blaming it on wily female temptresses. Also–and I think this is the point that really rubbed me wrong about this article–this sort of blame-the-victim attitude is prevalent on all sorts of college campuses, not just conservative Christian ones. Why insinuate that conservative Christians are somehow more prone to this sort of pro-rape attitude?

      • Got it. Thanks!

  3. Donna

     /  February 25, 2014

    I think you do have to compare different sources. It really is difficult to know what sources to trust. As for the other issue, I agree that a blame the victim attitude can happen on ANY college campus. I didn’t read the entire New Republic article. What I think is in question at PHC, and this is from what I have read online which correlates to what I read in the article, is an attitude where a boy has been raised to blame and shame a woman for his sexual feelings based on what she wears, and in some cases to tell her so. In other words, he has learned to not take responsibility for himself and his actions. Is this the kind of blame the victim attitude that people who work at PHC have used to deal with rape issues? I don’t know.

    Other people will arrive at a blame the victim attitude from a different perspective. I think this is one reason why sex ed is so important. I wish there were things I would have been told before I went to college. A woman should not go to ANY college and assume nothing bad will happen to her. Sex ed should also include learning about sex trafficking and how to protect yourself. I didn’t know until fairly recently how pervasive a problem this is in the US. It’s really scary.

    Reply
    • Adam’s main point, that the article states that it is the conservative Christian POV that causes shaming and opens the door to rape, is well taken. He is correct that such behavior is not limited to conservative Christian colleges. Nationally, there are many rape victims who fear coming forward, because they get the same response as those at PHC allegedly did. You should read the entire article; it’s worth the read. There is an attempt to make PHC and other Christian colleges, as inherently negative towards rape victims simply because of their Christianity. I do believe that conservative Christianity has a particular problem when it comes to rape, but I believe Adam made a valid point.

      Reply
      • Sheila, Thanks for the clarification and endorsement. I am very ready to agree that the culture at PHC tended to discourage victims from coming forward. But this does not mean that every homeschooling family endorses a Christian-patriarchy theology. Nor does it mean that this problem is somehow unique at PHC or other Christian schools. My objection to the New Republic article focused on the illiberal tactic of smearing a large group based on a sketchy association of that group with a hateful idea or action.

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