Ignorance: The Heart of Education

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Our educational culture wars are NOT battles between brutish conservatives who want to keep vital information out of the hands of children, on the one side, and scheming progressives on the other, progressives who want to dump information on hapless children, heedless of the moral consequences. Rather, all of us agree that schooling should promote and protect some forms of ignorance among kids. We only disagree on the details.


Known unknowns and unknown unknowns…

Now at long last we will have a collection of scholarly essays about the history of ignorance and education. Thanks to editor AJ Angulo, a new volume will soon hit the libraries. Miseducation will be published in early 2016 with Johns Hopkins University Press.

As the publisher explains,

Ignorance, or the study of ignorance, is having a moment. Ignorance plays a powerful role in shaping public opinion, channeling our politics, and even directing scholarly research. The first collection of essays to grapple with the historical interplay between education and ignorance, Miseducation finds ignorance—and its social production through naïveté, passivity, and active agency—at the center of many pivotal historical developments. Ignorance allowed Americans to maintain the institution of slavery, Nazis to promote ideas of race that fomented genocide in the 1930s, and tobacco companies to downplay the dangers of cigarettes. Today, ignorance enables some to deny the fossil record and others to ignore climate science.

I was honored to be asked to contribute. In my chapter, I look at the publishing efforts of fundamentalist schools such as Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College. How have those textbooks, I wondered, promoted a certain form of knowledge? How have they pushed a certain form of ignorance?

Perhaps more interesting, this volume can encourage all of us to examine the ways schools have not simply distributed knowledge. Any school, any educational project, must also encourage certain forms of ignorance.

It may seem outlandish, but it’s really so obvious it can be hard to see. What would we say if a second-grade teacher showed her students a violent movie such as Saving Private Ryan? Not at all appropriate. Not because it’s a bad movie, but because it’s incredibly violent.

What would we say if a second-grade teacher traumatized her students by taking them on a field trip to a slaughterhouse? Not at all appropriate. Not because it’s not educational, but because there are some truths we want to keep from young people.

It’s obvious to most of us: Some things are not appropriate for young kids to learn in school. Not because they’re not true, but because we want children to remain ignorant of some things. We expect schools to work hard to keep them ignorant of some things.

Angulo’s collection of essays will help examine these questions in new ways. Make room on your shelves!


Ignorance Unto Death

It is a dilemma at the heart of Christian faith: To know or to obey? The original sin of Adam & Eve, after all, was to become as gods by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This week, a state supreme court judge in Oregon faced the unenviable task of ruling whether faithful people knew by faith or by fact. Not surprisingly, she punted. Especially in schools and universities, questions of knowledge and faith will continue to bedevil us all. I’m arguing in upcoming books that religious people deserve considerable wiggle room when it comes to requiring knowledge about evolution or US history, but it’s not impossible for policy-makers to be bolder than they have been.

What did you know? And when did you know it?

What did you know? And when did you know it?

In the Oregon case, two parents from a strict religious sect were convicted in 2011 in the death of their infant son David. The boy had been born prematurely. The parents did not call for medical help but rather treated David at home. After nine hours, David died. Were the parents criminally liable for their faith-based failure to get medical help?

Oregon Supreme Court Justice Virginia Linder recently said yes. Sort of.

For our purposes, the most intriguing elements of this case are the tangled web of meanings in this case surrounding faith and knowledge. If the parents “knowingly” allowed their baby to suffer from treatable ailments, according to Oregon law, then they are criminally liable. But they hoped to force the state to prove that they “knew” it. They hoped to force the government to prove that they must know something that they refused to know.

Justice Linder did not decide the big question. Instead, she noted that the parents defended their actions with a different set of knowledge claims. The parents said they did not know the baby was sick. They said he appeared healthy until the very last minute. Doctors disagreed. They said any reasonable person could have discerned that the baby was in severe medical crisis.

In other words, the parents did not claim that they “knew” their faith could save the baby. They said instead that they didn’t “know” he was so very sick. The parents DID insist that the state had to prove that they “knowingly” refused care to their baby. As Linder summarized,

At trial, defendants argued that, because they withheld medical treatment from David based on their religious beliefs, the Oregon Constitution requires the state to prove that they acted “knowingly”—that is, they knew that David would die if they relied on prayer alone and, despite that knowledge, failed to seek medical treatment for him.

Justice Linder affirmed earlier court decisions that the parents were guilty of criminal neglect for their actions. The state, she ruled, did not have to prove that they “knew” of the harm they caused. But she did not decide if the parents must have known something they refused to know.

The complexity of the case shows yet again the durability of questions of knowledge and faith. Can the government insist that parents provide medical care for their children? In Oregon, yes. But can the government insist that parents “knew” their child needed medical care? That is a far more difficult question, and one that this ruling painstakingly sidesteps.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, nowhere do these questions of faith and knowledge clash more regularly and predictably than in the area of education. Can the government require that students “know” evolution? …that kids “know” how to prevent sexual transmitted infections? …that kids “know” how the first humans came to North America?   Also, how have private schools and universities attempted to shield young people from these sorts of knowledge?

Alas, secular progressive types like me cannot relax and claim that public schools should always promote knowledge over ignorance. After all, I agree that certain types of knowledge are not appropriate for certain groups of students. For example, we should teach all children about horrifying historical episodes, such as lynching in the USA or the Holocaust.   But we should not expose young children to gruesome images of charred corpses, sexually mutilated before being lynched. At least, I don’t think we should.

Such images are true. People should know about them. But I do not think seven-year-old children should be exposed to that sort of knowledge. I agree that schools should work to keep young children ignorant about such knowledge, even though I acknowledge that it is true and important.

The difference, in other words, is not that conservative religious people want to keep knowledge from children, while progressive secular folks want to give knowledge to children. The difference is only in what sorts of knowledge we want to shield students from, and how.

As I argue in a chapter in an upcoming book about ignorance and education, we can see these questions starkly exposed in the history of curriculum for private conservative evangelical schools. I looked at US History textbooks produced by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book. In each case, from the 1980s to the end of the twentieth century, publishers made claims about historical knowledge in each succeeding edition that were farther and farther afield from mainstream historical thinking.

Know this, not that.

Know this, not that.

In a later edition, for example, a history textbook from A Beka explained that humanity expanded around the globe after the fall of the Tower of Babel. Obviously, that is a very different explanation from what kids would read in a mainstream textbook. Publishers like A Beka hoped to shield students from mainstream knowledge about history by replacing it with an alternate body of knowledge. These textbooks do not simply try to create ignorance by blocking knowledge, but rather try to foster ignorance about a certain sort of knowledge by producing a convincing set of alternate knowledge.

When it comes to evolution, too, questions of knowledge and belief quickly become tangled and tricky. I’m arguing in an upcoming book with co-author Harvey Siegel that students in public schools must be required to “know” evolution. But too many public-school enthusiasts, we argue, have a cavalier attitude about this sort of knowledge. Yes, students must “know” and “understand” the claims of evolutionary theory. But if they choose not to believe them, that is their business.

Perhaps an easier way to make the distinction is to say that public-school students can be required to “know about” evolution. They must be able to explain it correctly. They must be able to describe accurately its main points. But if they think it would harm their religious beliefs to say they “know” that humans evolved via natural selection, then they have the right to insist that they only “know about” it.

It’s not an easy distinction. Nor was it easy for Justice Linder to decide what to say about the Oregon case. Do parents have the right to their religious beliefs? Yes. Can they not know something that everyone else knows? Yes, certainly. Do they have the right to insist on that relative ignorance if it causes palpable harm to others? Not in Oregon.

But this ruling does not decide if the parents in this case “knew” that their faith would save Baby David. It only states that parents do not have the right to insist that the government prove that they knew it.

Peddling Ignorance? Or Pushing Knowledge?

Okay, so here’s the question: If a teacher or textbook tries to block children from getting knowledge, is that still education? Or is it instead the deliberate promotion of ignorance?

In the case of US History, conservative textbooks deliberately set out to block children’s understanding of the kinds of historical ideas kids might hear in public school. Does that count as education? How about if the textbook and teacher sincerely believe the truth of what they’re teaching instead?

Here’s why I’m asking: I’ve spent the last couple of days debating these questions with a group of high-power historians and sociologists at the annual meeting of the Social Science Historical Association in scenic Toronto. Just next to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Our panel was convened by Winthrop University historian AJ Angulo.  It was chaired by Kim Tolley of Notre Dame de Namur University, and joined by Dan Perlstein of Berkeley and Karen Graves of Denison. Andrew Abbott of the University of Chicago offered comments. Professor Anjulo is editing a book about the historical construction of ignorance in American education. The rest of the group has contributed chapters.

My chapter, and the subject of my presentation in sunny Toronto, concerned history textbooks cranked out by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book. Both publishers come from the firmly fundamentalist side of conservative evangelicalism. And each of them has produced textbooks that tell a very different story than the one you might find in a public-school textbook.

a beka babel big

A Beka on where Americans came from

a beka babel detail

The Babel argument, close up

A Beka, for example, explains the origins of humanity in the Americas as the direct result of the collapse of the Tower of Babel. When that happened, people were pushed all over the earth, including into the Americas. And the BJU Press textbook asks review questions you would never find in any public-school history book: How does the early colonial history of the British teach lessons about the biblical morality of gay marriage in today’s world? What can Deuteronomy tell us about the Puritans?

No one doubts that these textbooks tell a very different history from the ones you’d find in a public school. History, in these tellings, is the unfolding of God’s plan over time. Human activity is but a scrabbling, either towards or away from the divine.

And the makers of these books have made no secret of their desire to replace mainstream historical thinking with conservative biblical interpretations. In other words, the entire point of these textbooks is to replace the histories kids might be hearing elsewhere with a profoundly biblical story.

As the faculty of Bob Jones University argued in a 1992 book, there is a “basic difference between Christian and secularist thinking about the human past.” Whereas mainstream or secular historians might hope to teach students to question sources and consider their own biases, BJU’s goal was different. The first goal of teaching history, they wrote, was to help a student “shore up his doctrinal beliefs and reinforce his Christian view of the world.”

BJU press review big

The main ideas, BJU-style

BJU press review detail

A close up: Living as a Christian Citizen

So does this count as the active construction of ignorance? Or is this, rather, simply a different version of what we usually call simply “education”? After all, kids come to public schools filled with historical knowledge, much of it bogus. Many of them get that knowledge from movies such as Forrest Gump. They think that history has been made up of Tom Hanks’ travels though time meeting famous people. Every good history teacher has to try to squeeze out those false historical notions and replace them with better ideas about history.

Activists such as Jonny Scaramanga might blast fundamentalist textbooks as near-criminal impositions of ignorance on hapless kids.  But these textbooks, we could argue, are doing the exact same thing as textbooks in public schools. They are trying to help children block out what they consider to be false knowledge with something they consider more true.

Can we call that peddling ignorance? Even if we think the history is wrong? Or do we have to admit that all education consists of an attempt to push out some kinds of knowledge to replace them with better kinds?

Americans Know that We Don’t Know about Evolution

Smoking will kill you. Americans are confident about that scientific fact. But we are far less confident in the scientific truths about evolution, the Big Bang, and creation. A new Associated Press/GfK poll of just over a thousand American adults reveals some fairly predictable results. It also raises important questions about the meanings of knowledge and ignorance. As this poll shows, most Americans are not entirely confident in either our incorrect knowledge or our correct knowledge. What the poll only hints at, though, is the way most mainstream American scientists are heartily ignorant about the thinking of the majority of Americans.

Most Americans now agree that smoking is unhealthy. Just over half think that life is too complex to have happened on its own. And only minorities of adults seem to have great confidence in evolution, an ancient earth, or the Big Bang.

There Are Known Unknowns...

There Are Known Unknowns…

These poll results can tell us more than just the raw numbers, though. Perhaps most interesting, this poll did not quiz respondents about their scientific knowledge. Rather, it asked people to rate their confidence in these scientific facts. Most Americans were very or extremely confident in their knowledge that smoking causes cancer. Only a minority, however, felt the same way about evolution.

As the Associated Press commented, these results struck mainstream scientists as particularly troubling, since these questions represented “settled scientific facts.” Mainstream scientists, in other words, are extremely confident in these ideas. Overwhelmingly confident.

Clearly, there is a more complicated dynamic going on here than simple non-knowledge of science. As historian Robert Proctor argued, tobacco companies spent a good deal of time and treasure to promote a certain sort of ignorance about the connection between smoking and cancer. This poll suggests that those efforts at manufactured ignorance have been foiled by mainstream science and public-health campaigning. Americans are now confident in their knowledge about the dangers of smoking.

But in the case of evolution and creation, skepticism about mainstream science still flourishes. A slim majority of Americans are “extremely” or “very” confident that life is so complex it must have been created by a “supreme being.” Most Americans are confident about this knowledge. And most Americans lack confidence in evolution.

When Americans lack confidence in the dangers of tobacco or the truth of evolution, they are doing something very different than simply being unaware of facts. They are expressing—some of them at least—confidence in a different set of facts, a different system of knowledge. There is a vast difference, after all, between the “knowledge” tobacco executives had in the 1960s about the health dangers of smoking and the “knowledge” most Americans in the 1920s had about the health dangers of smoking. The tobacco executives carefully built their non-knowledge in the 1960s. Most Americans in the 1920s, on the other hand, were simply unaware of the health dangers.

Similar complexity swirls around Americans’ current non-knowledge about evolution. Many of the people who are most furiously opposed to mainstream evolutionary science “know” a great deal about it. But they have very little confidence in the truth of those evolutionary ideas. That is a vastly different sort of non-knowledge than when someone is simply unaware of modern evolutionary thinking.

In short, it is not that Americans simply don’t know about evolution. We know that we don’t know.

Elite scientists, on the other hand, seem simply to not know things. Most elite scientists, it seems, don’t know much about what non-elite-scientists think. As sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund argued in her book Science vs. Religion, elite academics tend to be woefully unaware of mainstream religious ideas. The fact that so many Americans are so radically unconfident in ideas that mainstream scientists call “settled scientific facts” underlines this cultural divide once again.

If we want to talk about ignorance, we have to do it very carefully. Scientists are ignorant about Americans. Americans are ignorant about science. But scientists seem simply not to know about the ideas most Americans feel confident about. Most Americans, on the other hand, even when we know about scientific ideas, express very little confidence in them.



Creationism for Liberals

We know the problem with science in America, right?  Ignorant groups cluster around pseudo-scientific claims; people cling to outdated and disproven ideas out of a false sense of moral purity and righteousness.  Worst of all, scheming charlatans profit off this manufactured ignorance.

Same old, same old.  But what if we’re not talking about religious creationists, but rather about secular liberals?  In The Daily Beast, Michael Schulson recently accused shoppers at fancy-pants Whole Foods supermarkets of succumbing to pseudo-scientific claims.  Worst of all, Schulson writes, such folks often do so while feeling intellectually superior to the rest of benighted America.

As Schulson puts it,

From the probiotics aisle to the vaguely ridiculous Organic Integrity outreach effort (more on that later), Whole Foods has all the ingredients necessary to give Richard Dawkins nightmares. And if you want a sense of how weird, and how fraught, the relationship between science, politics, and commerce is in our modern world, then there’s really no better place to go. Because anti-science isn’t just a religious, conservative phenomenon—and the way in which it crosses cultural lines can tell us a lot about why places like the Creation Museum inspire so much rage, while places like Whole Foods don’t.

Read the entire piece.  Schulson describes the more-than-questionable claims of many of the products on sale at Whole Foods.  When he invited a biologist to look at some of the probiotic claims, she offered a quick conclusion about their scientific accuracy: “‘This is bullshit,’ she said, and went off to buy some vegetables.”

Most compelling, Schulson asks why creationist institutions such as the Creation Museum cause such outrage among the mainstream scientific community, while the anti-science on display at Whole Foods doesn’t.  One thing he doesn’t consider is the difference of scale here.  Young-earth creationists claim that the earth is somewhere between six and ten thousand years old.  Such an idea is utterly at odds with the fundamental premises of today’s science.  Claims that probiotics can work medical wonders might be false, but they’re not so enormously out of sync with mainstream science.

But that doesn’t mean that the parallel between young-earth creationism and organic-food fetishism isn’t important and valid.  As I have argued elsewhere, too often anti-creationists take false comfort from calling their creationist foes “ignorant.”  Certainly, some creationists might be naively ignorant, but more significant are those who know modern science and simply reject it.  The real question, IMHO, is not simply who is more ignorant, but rather a question of which cultural authorities people on each side choose to believe.

Along those lines, I appreciate Schulson’s stirring conclusion:

The moral is not that we should all boycott Whole Foods. It’s that whenever we talk about science and society, it helps to keep two rather humbling premises in mind: very few of us are anywhere near rational. And pretty much all of us are hypocrites.

You Won’t Believe What This Poll Found Out About Dumb Americans

Thanks to the ever-watchful Sensuous Curmudgeon, we see a new poll: Only ¾ of Americans know that the Earth goes around the sun.  Dur.  But this sort of ignorance raises important questions about what it means to know something and, crucially, what it means to not-know.

The poll was conducted in 2012 by the National Science Foundation and apparently shared at the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  [Editor’s note: we couldn’t find the original poll results themselves, but we found reports of them from sources such as National Public Radio and Phys.Org.]

According to this survey of 2,200 American adults, only 74% correctly answered that the Earth goes around the sun.  For those of us who get depressed about the great US of A, we might take some comfort that similar results have been reported from similar polls in the European Union and China.

But here’s the kicker: There are lots of ways to not-know something.  As Robert Proctor called it a few years back, there are many different meanings to agnotology, the science of not-knowing.  In the case of this survey, we see a crucial detail of great interest to all of us interested in American education and culture.

Though Americans, Europeans and Chinese displayed similar levels of what Proctor might call “native-state” ignorance about the fact that the Earth goes around the sun, Americans had much higher levels of “non-knowledge” about human evolution.  According to the NPR report, 66% of Chinese respondents thought humans had evolved from other animals.  Seventy percent of European respondents thought so.  But only 48% of Americans did.

For those of us interested in education and culture, this suggests a different sort of non-knowledge.  Americans who don’t “know” that humans evolved from animals might simply not know it.  They might be simply, naively ignorant.  But those folks will be joined by large percentages of Americans who don’t “know” humans evolved from animals because they firmly “know” that God created humanity by fiat.

So are Americans dumb?  Yes, of course we are.  But are we DUMBER than Chinese people or Europeans?  This is where it gets tricky.  When knowledge is simply absent, that’s one thing.  But when correct knowledge is knowingly replaced by counter-knowledge, we have a much more complicated situation.


Agnotology and Education

Late-night comics must miss the days of Cheney and Rumsfeld.  Dick Cheney shot people and literally had no heartbeat due to a special kind of pacemaker. Donald Rumsfeld offered rhetorical gems during press
conferences, none better than the following from 2002:

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some
things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Along these lines, although with pithier prose, historian of science Robert Proctor  has suggested a promising line of study, about the things we don’t know and the ways we don’t know them.  He calls the field agnotology, or the study
of ignorance.  Others have suggested different terms, such as agnoiology.  (See Tim Lacy’s discussion of the history on the US Intellectual History blog for more.)

In a recent collection of essays co-edited with Londa Schiebinger, Proctor laid out a three-part structure of agnotology.  In Proctor’s view, it will be helpful to differentiate between types of ignorance:

ignorance as native state (or resource), ignorance as lost realm (or selective choice), and

ignorance as a deliberately engineered and strategic ploy (or active construct).

Proctor and some of the other essay contributors are especially interested in the ways that ignorance can be a strategic ploy.  Proctor, for instance, describes the ways tobacco companies constructed plausible ignorance about the negative health impacts of smoking.  Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, in their contribution “Challenging Knowledge: How Climate Science Became a Victim of the Cold War,” explore the conspiratorial history of the George Marshall Institute and its quest to create ignorance about the causes of global climate change.

It seems to me the study of ignorance has another productive application in our thinking about the cultural and intellectual role of institutional education.  Notions of education usually include the implicit claim to be combating ignorance.  But in fact, some kinds of ignorance have long been part and parcel of educational goals.  In general, this has taken the form of certain types of information from which young people must be shielded.  This has a long and storied legacy.  Anthony Comstock, for example, made his career on protecting youth, women, and other “vulnerable” classes of people from exposure to lewd information.

In American schools, a Calvinist hangover has implicitly shaped ideologies of mandatory ignorance, especially for the young.  Pre-1857 editions of McGuffey’s Third Reader included a short anonymous selection that typified this tradition.  In the short dialogue, “Knowledge is Power,” the first speaker asserts confidently, “Knowledge is an excellent thing.”

An old man replies, “It may be a blessing or a curse.  Knowledge is only an increase of power, and power may be a bad as well as a good thing.”  The old man goes on to give examples that overwhelm the initial reluctance of his optimistic interlocutor: A horse without a bridle can wreck a barn. A pond without dams can flood a field.  A ship well steered goes faster, but if steered wrong, “the more sail she carries, the further will she go out of her course.”

The younger man is convinced.  Without tight control, such things can cause damage.  “‘Well, then,’ continued the old man, ‘if you see these things so clearly, I hope you can see, too, that knowledge to be a good thing, must be rightly applied.  God’s grace in the heart will render the knowledge of the head a blessing; but without this, it may prove to us no better than a curse.”

This short bit captures the powerful drive toward ignorance that long ruled the Reformed tradition in the United States.  Knowledge, in this view, was not a simple good.  It must be carefully examined and weighed before being pursued.  By itself, knowledge could be the sinful knowledge first banned for Adam and Eve.  It could be the knowledge of pernicious doubt and skepticism.  To become wise, in this tradition, meant remaining ignorant of such fields.

This tradition of mandatory ignorance has been enormously influential on American thinking about education and youth.  Throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, the notion that ignorance must be actively promoted and defended among young people has proven culturally and politically powerful far beyond the circles of religious conservatives.  Knowledge about sex, violence, and—among certain circles—scientific topics such as evolution has been seen as an intellectual poison.  Building and defending walls of ignorance around such notions has been asserted as the primary aim of education.

For instance, in the 1920s, when the culture wars over the teaching of evolution first heated up, anti-evolutionists insisted that any chink in the armor of ignorance protecting young people would be worse than death.  In 1923, anti-evolution evangelist T.T. Martin demanded relentless defense of the ignorance of young people.  “Ramming poison down the throats of our children is nothing,” Martin accused, “compared with damning their souls with the teaching of Evolution.”

Other anti-evolutionists in the 1920s argued that this ignorance should only extend through children’s formative years.  By the time they reached college age, many thought, they could be safely allowed to know.  For instance, Alfred Fairhurst, a fundamentalist educator active in the 1920s controversies, had always argued that “in the colleges and universities [evolution] ought to be taught honestly and fully to the select few who have the ability to comprehend it in all its bearings.”

Similar arguments were made throughout the twentieth century about the importance of ignorance about sex for young people.  One of the most prolific fundamentalist writers about education and ignorance has been Tim LaHaye.  In his 1983 Battle for the Public School, LaHaye decried the fact that explicit knowledge about sex had been “jammed down the throats of our children.”  LaHaye described one passage of a sex-ed book:

thescene of intercourse portrays a naked father astride his equally naked wife,
intent on three areas of contact: lips, breasts/chest, penis/vagina.  The genital area offers an ‘inner’ diagram,
so that the child can perceive the mother’s vagina and uterus; the father has
inserted his penis into the vagina and is emitting sperm cells.

Such knowledge, LaHaye insisted, exemplified “this reckless policy of inflaming young minds with adult information.”  For LaHaye as for Protestant fundamentalists of the 1920s, this was not an undifferentiated insistence on ignorance, but rather a belief that certain types of ignorance must be maintained for young
people specifically.  As many conservative Protestants did not—and do not—object to the teaching of evolution
to older students, so LaHaye famously celebrated sex knowledge for some audiences.  In his 1976 book, The Act of Marriage, LaHaye promoted frank, explicit knowledge of sex for adult married couples.

This distinction between young unmarried people and married couples runs throughout current conservative Protestant thinking about sex education.  Ministries such as Joe Beam’s Family Dynamics promote knowledge about sex, but only within a traditional marriage.

For such Christian conservatives, knowledge as such is not dangerous, but the boundaries around knowledge must be vigorously defended.

The notion that young people must be protected from certain types of knowledge has powerful influence beyond the ranks of Protestant fundamentalists.  Recently, the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown v.
Entertainment Merchants Association
(2010) that the state of California could not ban violent video games for those under eighteen years of age.  The Court agreed that such a ban violated the game-makers’ First Amendment right to free speech.

Justice Clarence Thomas made a curious rejoinder.  In his dissenting opinion, he argued that California could ban violent video games because the founding generation believed in and rigidly enforced parents’ ability to severely curtail the outer bounds of knowledge accessible to their children.

Thomas argued that the founding generation demanded strong control over what young people could know.
He stated, “Adults [in the founding era] carefully controlled what they published for children.  Stories written for children were dedicated to moral instruction and were relatively austere, lacking details that might titillate children’s minds.”

Like LaHaye and the 1920s anti-evolutionists, Thomas insisted on the educational tradition of promoting, defending, and enforcing ignorance.  Certain topics, especially concerning sex, violence, and religiously charged notions such as evolution, must not be broached with young people.  There is an inherent danger, according to this line of thinking, in the merest exposure of young people to such forms of knowledge.  In this view, schools join parents as gatekeepers of such forbidden forms of knowledge.  The role of the school, parent, and society, is to become active purveyors of constructed ignorance for young people.