The Kids Are Alright

A blast from the past: going through old papers I find the following letter, sent to the Christian Science Monitor on 16 May 1990. I have no record of whether it was published, but my guess would be no.

To the Editor:

Among the high school survey results Rushworth Kidder finds disturbing [“Children’s Moral Compass Wavers,” 5/16/90] is the fact that a high percentage (47% according to Kidder, 45% according to the chart) place their own experience above parents, religion, science, and the media as the “most believable authority in matters of truth.”

a free childI am far more disturbed by the fact that Kidder finds this statistic disturbing. Surely we want to raise a generation of independent thinkers, not of sheep who passively accept the dictates of authority; so we should find this statistic heartening. Thomas Jefferson would certainly have been pleased.

As for the willingness of high school students to cheat in an exam, it’s difficult to know whether this is a bad sign morally. After all, students are legally compelled, often against their will, to attend high school and to take exams there. In this context, it’s morally problematic to claim that students have an obligation not to cheat. (Do slaves have a moral obligation not to disobey their masters?)

As long as our nation, defying the Constitution’s ban on involuntary servitude, tolerates the institution of compulsory education, high school exams will be given in an atmosphere that is morally tainted from the start.

Roderick T. Long
Ithaca, New York

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6 Responses to The Kids Are Alright

  1. Anon73 February 3, 2010 at 3:16 am #

    The part about science is debatable; after all, one of the epistemic assumptions of science is that one can trust one’s own experiences of scientific experiments to be legitimate. Note, however, this doesn’t entail believing automatically whatever some self-proclaimed “scientists” have to say – replicability is another key aspect of science. For example, if it turns out AGW isn’t real then the scientific finding would have to be replicable and repeatable.

    Unfortunately I think I’ve ruled out evolutionary biology as “science” by these criteria. 🙂

    • lukas February 3, 2010 at 3:41 am #

      No, you haven’t.

      But when a poll asks about science separate from personal experience, it probably means science as in “believe what those credentialed scientists tell you.”

    • Anon73 February 3, 2010 at 3:49 am #

      Sounds like a poorly worded question then.

      I once read an article by an atheist who quoted a Christian minister asking “Do you believe in Christ in your heart?” His response was to say, what would we mean by saying “Do you believe Napolean was defeated at Waterloo, in your heart?” or “Do you believe that water has a certain boiling point in your heart?”.

      • JOR February 3, 2010 at 5:01 am #

        I’m pretty sure the water in my heart would boil at a certain point.

    • Charles H. February 3, 2010 at 7:49 am #

      “Unfortunately I think I’ve ruled out evolutionary biology as “science” by these criteria.”

      Why? I hope you’re not repeating a fallacious argument I’ve heard before: “science must be reproducible, and we can’t recreate human evolution/ the origin of life/ some other phenomenon, therefore anything we say about it isn’t science.” This stems from a lack of understanding of what “reproducible” means in this context.

      Forensic scientists don’t have to murder someone all over again to claim their science is “reproducible.” But if they have an experimental method for determining the blood type of blood samples from the crime scene, and they reveal that this sample was B+, then another, independent group of scientists must be able to use the same methods and come up with the same results.

      This is what makes science different from, say, a Magic 8-ball: each time it gives a different result, so the results of the Magic 8-ball “test” are not replicable.

      • JOR February 4, 2010 at 6:47 am #

        I’ve encountered physicists who insist that biology isn’t a real science.

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