12. Let the Students Decide for Themselves

Even if all their arguments can be handily defeated in an academic venue (which they have), and even if one sees through their many distortions of evolution, and even if one rejects their attempts to attack the philosophy of science itself, creationists have one last card to play: the "freedom" card.

Perhaps the greatest proof that creationism is a political movement rather than a scientific theory lies in the "let the students decide" battle cry which has been echoing through school board meetings for years. Bill O'Reilly, part of FOXNews' stable of right-wing political pundits, has repeatedly declared that it is "fascism" to teach evolution to the exclusion of creationism in science class. Apparently, if you insist that science class accurately represent science, then you are a "fascist". I suppose this means that from now on, science class should be renamed to "popular views of reality" class. This kind of argument does not even pretend to have any scientific or logical basis, and is based purely on appeals to "freedom".

The truth, however politically awkward it may seem, is that schools are not a prime venue for "freedom". Students are there to learn, not to be "free". If they wanted to be "free", they would be skipping class. Students may have the "freedom" to use their own quadratic equation, or make up their own spellings for English words, or decide for themselves that Alexander the Great was actually a 7 foot tall black man, but the teachers have an obligation to give them a bad grade if they do so. Good grades are not rewards for time served; they are assessments of your performance, and if a child wants a good grade in science class, he has to learn what science says, not what religious people want science to say.

The entire "freedom" angle is nothing more than a distraction. People do have the freedom to believe whatever they want, but that doesn't mean they should get diplomas stating that they understand science when they don't. Freedom of expression ends at fraud.

Unfortunately, while the "Let the students decide" argument is lousy education policy, it is very clever politics. It appeals not only to "freedom", but also to the teenage ego. High-school students don't realize that they've only been taught "dumbed down" versions of scientific theories and the scientific method, in preparation for university where they will learn the real thing. In their youthful arrogance, they often fail to realize how much more there is to learn, and so they conclude that they are ready to judge scientific theories when they are in fact woefully unprepared to do so. What they would be judging is not the theory of evolution, but a massively oversimplified version of it, and they would be missing the tools they need to analyze it.

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