My New Best Friend

It might not be air-traffic control, but writing academic books has its own nerve-wracking qualities. For years, we nerds research and write, honing the argument, polishing the draft, visiting and revisiting the archives. And we do it without much sense of direction. Is the argument solid? Does it make sense to normal people? When we’re up to our eyeballs in it, it can be difficult to get a clear view of the big picture. Given all this prolonged anxiety, it is a real thrill when someone we look up to likes the book.

Write any good books lately?

Write any good books lately?

Today I read with enormous pleasure Dr. Andrew Petto’s review of The Other School Reformers on the Reports of the National Center for Science Education.

First of all, I’m delighted that Petto finds the book worthwhile. He kindly calls it

a must-read for anyone interested in or hoping to effect educational reform—whether in the sciences or in other disciplines.

Woo! By my count, that’s within spitting distance of my ultimate career goal: someone calling a book of mine a “tour-de-force.”

Even better, Dr. Petto understands that my book, in many ways, is targeted at progressive types. Yes, it is a book about conservative school activism during the twentieth century. At heart, though, I hoped to introduce said conservatives to progressives like my younger self who did not understand them, who feared and loathed them…or rather caricatures of them.

As Dr. Petto puts it, for progressives,

The implications are clear: if progressive reforms are going to succeed in public education, then progressives need to address the real concerns of conservative parents and activists.

In the specific case of evolution and creationism, as I also argue in my upcoming book co-authored with philosopher Harvey Siegel, this means that evolution-education types need to spend more time learning about creationism and less time denouncing it as wicked, ignorant, and abusive.

Petto says it better than I ever could. As he concludes,

Conservative activism in education is part of a long and deep tradition, not a series of impromptu protests. To understand that history and the concerns that drive it, according to Laats, is to understand the state of public education in the US. And for those who hope to change things in the public schools, this is an important place to begin.

Leave a comment


  1. Agellius

     /  November 3, 2015

    Nice! Congratulations.

  2. Hey Adam. I have not visited your blog in quite a while. It is nice to see you are still here and actively writing. Congratulations on your new book, and I do sincerely hope you wrote it for all American citizens rather than just for consumption by your academic colleagues who speak a foreign language called “academese.” In addition to being a professional scientist and an American archaeologist, I have also had a long dual career as a professional technical editor and science writer. Academic pretension and the wall-others-out jargon that often comes with it drives me and other people just plain nuts—and it makes us angry too.

    You and your readers might be interested in the most recent posts on two of my WordPress blogs. The first is my most recent post about academic writing—and i have done my own share of it in the past. The inspiration for it was an article in the most recent on-line edition of the literary magazine “The Atlantic.”

    The second item on another one of my blogs is a little number I prepared last night on the lies Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals tell. The links to the two blog items are at the following links:

    Please feel free to pass these items around to your colleagues and assorted web channels—even Facebook. You and I have always shared a lot of common interests, and I have been trying to increase the readership on my blogs.

    How have you been doing, and how is life going these days—other than the new book?

  3. Congratulations, Dr. Laats!

  4. “…evolution-education types need to spend more time learning about creationism and less time denouncing it as wicked, ignorant, and abusive.”

    I hope that is only because the proper response to wicked, ignorant, and abusive things is to take them seriously when the spread and you can’t easily eradicate them.


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