The danger of suppressing independent thought in our systems of education.
By Reginald Welkin
There is often an assumption that religion was always the persecutor of science and that scientists, no matter the odds, continued to search for truth, passing down what they knew so that other scientists could improve on it. Sure, religion may bring certain bias into science, but this doesn’t mean that science is devoid of bias nor that religious scientists didn’t discover some of the most pivotal ideas that science upholds.
Back in medieval times, pretty much the only ones who could read and write, and thus the only ones that passed down scientific ideas were in the clergy. Sure, monks might work as scribes, doctors, and teachers, but all passed through the Church’s schools, met their rigorous and exacting standards, and were subject to the whims of those clerics of almighty Rome. There were many tradesmen who learned specific trades from father to son or master to apprentice, but few of these deigned to practice outside their craft and cause problems with their guild.
In modern times, you would expect that things have greatly changed. Don’t we revere those with creativity and hold high the banner of freedom of thought? Most young people claim to be independent and think for themselves. But if you look closely, even the most independent person, if not deemed to be in the realm of insanity, looks much like everyone else in their subculture. As Franklin wrote, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Asia has more than one saying about those with independence of thought. One being; “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
But those in the West brag about how we excel in creativity, are non-conformists, and question tradition. We scoff at those in the East who are unable to improve because they are so bound by tradition that, even when they come up with a great idea, they are afraid to say it, for fear of how others would think of them. Even recently, in regards to the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, we hear stories about how employees were afraid to go against their bosses’ orders[i], thus causing a greater disaster. We often think that we are free to think and say what we think without consequences or reprisal. If you believe that way, you are wrong.
Let’s look at our educational system. Have you wondered how it began? We laugh at those that have degrees from Diploma Mills and only Honorary Degrees. They didn’t put in the work, pass the tests or follow the program. Anything they say, no matter how logical, scientific, thoughtful, studied, or true, should not be trusted. Once we are adults and a part of the system, we tend to put more weight in the words of those with higher degrees than those with lower. If a PhD says something, we are more likely to believe it, than when someone with a Master’s degree and a Master’s degree over a Bachelor’s Degree. Thoughts are not judged on their own, but ranked by legitimacy as constructed by the Educational System. People can’t just state they are a graduate and start teaching. People would ask them which school they graduated from, what degree they hold, and in many cases, verify this information. This wasn’t so in the beginning.
Really. The first teachers were those that discovered things on their own and taught them to others. They had no degree and they didn’t attend any school of any kind, let alone higher education. These people were not respected because of what others said about them, but for what they were capable of doing. Of course, knowledge is gained over time, and mistakes have been made. Maybe someone was a good salesman but a terrible doctor. Even though they might not actually have been curing people, they might have been quite successful, and thus had understudies or students learning from them. These in turn, taught others, and while they sometimes improved their knowledge and skills, such a system often has a conservative or traditional bias. If a student wrote a paper in opposition to his professor’s ideas, he might not get a good grade. If he didn’t learn to keep his ideas to himself, he wasn’t likely to graduate. If he did keep his ideas to himself and graduated, he would likely face graduates of the same false ideas working in his profession, managing licensure, in high offices of government and the private sector. Thus, to go too far afield, even when recognized as being a smart enough individual to graduate from a prestigious school, would be putting one’s reputation and livelihood at risk.
Many of us laugh at those that thought the Earth was flat. It seems so ridiculous. We all know that we live on a sphere, spinning in space, rotating around the Sun, swirling in the Milky Way, in a sea of galaxies, in the broad ocean of the Universe, which might just be one of many in the Multi-Verse. But wait! Where did we learn this? Didn’t we learn it from our teachers, who learned it from their teachers, who, at some point, learned it from someone that came up with the idea from their observation? Didn’t those people who thought the Earth was flat learn their knowledge from their teachers as well? Weren’t they taught to not question their teachers as we are taught the same?
We hear of “Settled Science”[ii]. Science is never settled! That is what makes it science. It is something that must continue to be observed and proven correct, or else something has changed and new assumptions are made. Countries are legislating against people that want to teach their children differently than the State. They are taking children away from parents.[iii] They are even going so far as to force medical procedures people’s children[iv], even those the parents believe may not only be unnecessary, but harmful[v]. It has gone beyond coercion, to outright force. Doesn’t this sound a lot like the Church of old, which persecuted people who didn’t comply with its teachings? Is it Science or Religion?
[i] Former Bosses of Fukushima Disaster Nuclear Plant Stand Trial: South China Morning Post (June 30, 2017), Accessed August 13, 2017 from: http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/east-asia/article/2100717/former-bosses-fukushima-disaster-nuclear-plant-stand-trial
[ii] Kluger, Jeffery. How Climate Deniers Try to Sow Confusion: TIME (April 28, 2016) Accessed August 15, 2017 from: http://time.com/4308518/climate-change-settled-science/
[iii] Wunderlich vs Germany: ADF International (May 5, 2017), Accessed August 15, 2017 from: https://adfinternational.org/detailspages/case-details/wunderlich-v.-germany
[iv] Court Says Ill Child’s Interests Outweigh Religion: New York Times (January 16, 1991), Accessed August 15, 2017 from: http://www.nytimes.com/1991/01/16/us/court-says-ill-child-s-interests-outweigh-religion.html
[v] Farris, Michael P. Esq. Newborn Seized in Hospital by Police, Social Worker: Home School Legal Defense Association (March 27, 2012), Accessed, August 15, 2017 from: https://www.hslda.org/hs/state/pa/201203270.asp
Vickers, John. The Problem of Inductive Reasoning: Stanford (March 14, 2014) Accessed August 15, 2017 from: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/induction-problem/
Writes about politics from a Conservative Libertarian viewpoint. While pushing for a government that is Fiscally Conservative and Socially Liberal, he personally appreciates the Socially Conservative lifestyle.
Copyright R. A. Welkin