Students of Missouri: You have the right to remain ignorant

Missouri ‘Right to Pray’ Law Could Limit Teaching Evolution

Last week, Missouri voters gave themselves the right to pray without state interference. But some science educators are worried that the seemingly innocuous referendum on the 7 August ballot, which passed overwhelmingly, could also undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Amendment 2 “is a lawyer’s dream” because of its vagueness, says Joshua Rosenau, programs and policy director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, which tracks efforts by groups that oppose evolution. While the amendment begins by declaring that all residents “have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences,” it also lists several situations in which that right must be protected. Rosenau is worried about one particular clause: “that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.”

Those words give students the legal right to skip assignments related to evolution if the subject matter conflicts with their beliefs, Rosenau says.

Source: Science Insider

So, in essence, students could state a religious objection to learning about evolution, the origin of the universe, geologic history, even sex education. This topics are already contentious areas for teachers. The backers of the law say this interpretation is taking it to extremes, saying that these objections won’t happen often. The problem is, it shouldn’t be allowed to happen at all. The only harm in learning about things that may conflict with your belief is that your belief may be threatened. And those who push belief don’t want children even hearing other explanations for how the world works. It gives them ideas.

  22 comments for “Students of Missouri: You have the right to remain ignorant

  1. Vinny Giardina
    August 14, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    “these objections won’t happen often.” ?!?

    I wonder if he had a stroke from trying to keep a straight face when saying that?

  2. August 14, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    I wish I’d had an excuse like that – calculus is the Devil’s ding-dong.

  3. G
    August 14, 2012 at 9:43 PM

    I was teaching “Life Science” to 8th graders. We got to the section on how the human body works. I believe the text, and therefore I, started with respiration–that is, an explanation of how the lungs take in air and make it so the body can use it. Nifty, educational, entirely non-queasifying. Right?

    I had one student who was protesting, creating a huge fuss, shaking her head and screaming, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening” because I was trying to tell her how her lungs worked.

    I spoke with her after class. Her protests were something about how it was disgusting, but since she was pretty incoherent it was hard to get her to explain just what her problem was. She did insist that she shouldn’t have to take this section, and her parents would support her. I said, “Fine. If you can bring in a note from your parents that says you really don’t have to learn about human anatomy, then I’ll discuss it with you and the principal.”

    The note she brought me the next day said, “Please excuse [student] from sections that involve dissection.” What? Where the hell did she get the idea that dissection was even on the table? *Human* anatomy, she thought would involve dissection? The school didn’t even have the budget for the Bio class to dissect animals, how was the human anatomy section of 8th grade “Life Science” going to involve dissection?

    She just heard me talking about organs and assumed it was a lead-in to dissection of something, and completely blocked out everything else about the textbook, the lecture, and what I said to her during and after class. So focused on “dissection is disgusting” that she couldn’t even hear me talking, so focused she couldn’t be coherent about what her problem was.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying, Sure. Kids are going to know *exactly* what they’re protesting before they raise a huge fuss that destroys the whole teaching day for all their classmates. Or the whole section. Or the entire course. Right. Absolutely.

    • Geoff
      August 14, 2012 at 10:23 PM

      Jumpin’ Jehosaphat…I would not make a good teacher. I would have slapped that child silly.

    • Wzrd1
      August 16, 2012 at 3:44 PM

      Sometimes, to dissect a misconception takes a LOT of effort in calming down someone enough to learn what they’re so upset about.
      Unfortunately, teachers don’t get much time to manage calming a student down enough to have a discussion.

      I take it that the student ceased objections after learning that human dissection wasn’t part of the curriculum?

      • G
        August 16, 2012 at 5:28 PM

        Poor kid. Having made that much of a fool of herself in front of her peers, she couldn’t come to gracefully accept the section no matter how lacking in dissection the class was (and even though the note, and subsequent conversation, happened privately).

        She was still a problem throughout. No further disruptions of class, but sullen and uncooperative. I did make an effort to draw her into discussions on how things were interesting and how knowing this stuff could be useful (de-emphasising any “gross” and “disgusting” side chatter). I tried.

        I’ve had enough rotten teachers myself that I did my best for undiagnosed (or diagnosed but untreated) obvious issues like ADD, or kids who’ve learned to act out because it’s all they know how to do, or kids who refuse to participate at all for unknown reasons, or kids who obviously had something not right with their home life (the student in question was one of those; I’m not sure her home had power, I know she didn’t have phone service)…or just plain “being a kid” issues, there are a lot of those.

        And I’m in the process of developing a migraine, so I can’t do anything about my run-on sentences. I apologize.

        • Wzrd1
          August 16, 2012 at 5:41 PM

          I’ve had my share of lousy teachers when I was in school and treasured our quality teachers greatly.
          I WILL admit, I could be a double handful, but that was because I was bored. I always have read faster than any student I have met, with comprehension well above 95%.
          So, the quality teachers and I came up with strategies to challenge me with additional information outside of class hours.
          Of course, teaching has advanced greatly over the decades since I was in school. Today, teachers are trained in dealing with ADD, dyslexia (my wife remained undiagnosed until *I* noticed her tendencies while we were dating) and behavioral issues and can help the willing student overcome many issues that previously interfered greatly with their education.

          That said, I do blame that child’s parents. If they had a TRUE interest in the future of their child, they would have scheduled a meeting with you to discuss her issues with the class. WE did it with our children, to great success. My parents did it with me.
          Regrettably, too many parents think that working hard all day excuses them from working to be a good parent.
          To the great expense of all of us.

          • G
            August 17, 2012 at 8:50 AM

            Without going any further into that particular kid…

            I think, perhaps, that being furious at some parents is just a waste of energy. They won’t care that you’re furious and nothing you do is going to change the kid’s home life. You can pile the blame on them and they won’t flinch, either because they’ve already broken or they are immune to the feeling of blame when it comes to their kid. “True interest” in the child? ANY interest in the child? I think you may not have experienced the callousness some parents can display towards their own children.

            Some children, well, they are pretty clearly doing the best they can to raise themselves. And without support from someone who knows what they are doing, a teacher prying and getting personal may end up doing more harm than good. It’s a job for a guidance counselor, a principal, perhaps Child Services…but in some cases, calling Child Services without *knowing* what to tell them will actually make the child’s life worse.

            As one teacher without administrative support, there’s no point wasting energy or emotion on parents who will not care that you have an opinion. All you can really do is focus on the students: make your class as positive and educational as possible with the resources you’ve got.

            And I still stick to my earlier point, that kids can easily disrupt a whole class session or even a whole section or course with “personal or religious conflicts” without even having any idea what they are protesting.

          • G
            August 17, 2012 at 10:22 AM

            Oh hey, I appreciate the kind comments, Wzrd1, but I’m stuck disabled at home now. My back got so bad that I can’t do any kind of daily commuting, to my great frustration.

            And thanks, I managed to go to sleep quickly after noticing the migraine was coming on. So the worst of the migraine effects were mitigated; I’m really lucky that’s something that works for me. All that’s left now is a mild “migraine hangover.”

        • FaceMeetsPalm
          August 16, 2012 at 7:59 PM

          I have to wonder what was going through the parents’ minds. Did they honestly believe there was human dissection going on, or were they just spoiling an unruly child by humoring her idiocy?

          Either way, it seems her problems started long before she was born.

          • Wzrd1
            August 17, 2012 at 9:43 AM

            G, I agree. I wasn’t suggesting that a teacher could do anything more than do his or her best for the students with what is available.
            But, I hate waste. Especially when it comes to a child’s potential in life and parents essentially sabotaging their child’s future simply makes my blood boil.
            It’s teachers like you that are our nation’s greatest treasure, doing all that you are able to do to help a willing student exceed those limitations if they work at it.
            Having a home in one of America’s inner cities, I’ve personally witnessed the entire spectrum with parental support or the lack thereof. I’ve witnessed parents move heaven and earth to help their child succeed in life where the parents lacked options. I’ve witnessed callousness that would shock the majority of the populace. I’ve witnessed a single mother proclaim her joy over being illiterate and espouse a similar life being worthy for her sons, one of whom ended up in prison for murder a year after her proclamation.
            For the last, the entire city block despised her over her opinion of the lack of worth of literacy.

            But, it’s not only children who can disrupt events through ignorance of what they’re protesting, we’ve all witnessed adults doing the same thing in public forums, including legislative sessions.
            Perhaps we need to have a new course called “civil discourse”, which covers interpersonal relationships and discussion. One item would be to consider, when becoming angry in a discussion, mentally stepping back and ascertaining WHY one is becoming angry and examine if one is misunderstanding the other and seeking, respectfully, clarification.
            Nah, THAT course would never fly. Both due to lack of support from the public and lack of funding.

            I hope you’ve recovered from your migraine. I know how much fun that they are not, as I used to get one per year. Now, I no longer have classic migraines, but get visual migraines that leave me functionally blind for an hour, several times per year. The upside is, no pain and limited duration.

  4. Drivebyposter
    August 14, 2012 at 11:26 PM

    Even if it doesn’t happen often, how do they plan to deal with the situation when it arises?

    Ok. You don’t have to learn anything that discusses reality. Good luck getting into college. Or even doing well on the SATs. Do they get exempt from tests that involve the topics? Even a final that mentions evolution a few times? This sounds like a huge mess in the making. Just another way for religious people to drag their feet and scream and make the already overextended school system make special arrangements for fools.

    • spookyparadigm
      August 15, 2012 at 12:44 AM

      Who needs to understand evolution to work at Walmart?

      • Wzrd1
        August 16, 2012 at 3:46 PM

        Who can afford luxuries like Walmart when one is too ignorant to get anything better paying than minimum wage?

  5. Wzrd1
    August 16, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    Let’s see. First, the SCOTUS has long upheld that any law referring to “Almighty God” is Christian in nature, hence unconstitutional.
    There went THAT provision, as NO state constitution overrules the US Constitution, the reverse is true.
    The latter part is overly vague, it would open the door for a student to reject ALL classes as a violation of their interpretation of their religion, even PE! That said, the intent could also be read that it is not permitting a student to be forced to dissect a frog, pig or cat, which is highly objectionable to Hindu students. But, as it’s overly vague, it’ll stand for about 15 seconds in federal court.

    • LovleAnjel
      August 16, 2012 at 4:08 PM

      Every bio teacher I have worked with has alternative assignments for non-dissectors – this includes vegans as well as Hindu, Jewish and Muslim students (they can’t even touch a scissors that has touched a fetal pig). I went to high school with a vegan, back when they were rare, and she was able to do an extensive paper full of annotated drawings from books instead.

  6. Rorgg
    August 16, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    Given that there’s a passage in the bible that refers to a circle 30 cubits (or whatever) around and 10 across, pi equaling 3 should lead to a fun time in math class.

    • Wzrd1
      August 16, 2012 at 3:35 PM

      That would make for some, erm, interesting structural engineering moments!

  7. LovleAnjel
    August 16, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    There was another vaguely worded bill passed that makes it illegal to make noise next to a church. I am not kidding.

    SB755 makes it misdemeanor (and a felony if it happens more than twice!) to “…disturbs a building used for religious purposes by using profanity, rude or indecent behavior, or making noise. A person commits the crime if they engage in such behavior within the house of worship or so close to the building that the services are disturbed.”

    • Wzrd1
      August 16, 2012 at 4:17 PM

      Pennsylvania has Missouri beat.
      § 17.5. Blasphemy or profanity.

      An association name may not contain words that constitute blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing or that profane the Lord’s name.

      Source

      The provisions of this § 17.5 adopted June 22, 1973, effective June 23, 1973, 3 Pa.B. 1164; amended April 17, 1992, effective April 18, 1992, 22 Pa.B. 1993. Immediately preceding text appears at serial page (87015).

      It was overturned in federal court in 2010 after the Commonwealth actually had the nerve to defend the statute.

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