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A right to be wrong


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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Dan Cassino

By Dan Cassino
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
September 17, 1999

Fundamentalism took hold of Belridge, Calif. until it was forced to relinquish Wednesday. As easy as it is to condemn the extreme right wing, we don't always have the right to protect people from it.

Wednesday, the principal of Belridge's only school succumbed to pressure from the ACLU, and agreed to return the textbooks his school had received for this year. To this small community, with only 60 children in its school and only that school in its school district, the books seemed like a steal. Not only were the books more advanced than most they had considered, but an anonymous donor had agreed to pay for the books.

Of course, there was a problem. The texts in question were published by A Beka Books, Inc., a Christian bookseller that stresses the hand of God in human affairs.

It's not as though the district didn't recognize that the textbooks were a potential powder keg. Before deciding on them, there was a series of public meetings on the topic. Afterwards, all of the parents of the 60 children in the district signed consent forms, and were advised that some of the more extreme content would be edited out. Because the anonymous donor was paying for them, the textbooks didn't even have to pass through the state-level review process.

Contents of the textbook leave no question as to what the motives are: to show how the Christian God is the dominant force in history, science and mathematics.

"God gave us our powers of thought and language and chose to reveal His will and His way to us in a written form, the Bible," the A Beka write-up on their English texts states. It goes on to explain that the idea that language evolved, leads, like all Darwinistic approaches, to error. It tells us that an approach to teaching language without bringing God into it is an approach to language without rules or structure.

A Beka science books are even more enlightening. They teach that "modern science is the product of mankind's return to scripture after the Protestant reformation." These textbooks also claim to "give a solid foundation in all areas of science - a foundation firmly anchored to Scriptural truth." They also follow recent trends in education and "presents the universe as the direct creation of God...refuting the man-made idea of evolution."

Are these ideas absurd? Yes. Are they repugnant to anyone who is serious about any academic pursuit? They are the product of fear and of ignorance. But people have a right to them.

In this case, the ACLU heard about the textbooks and some other Christian paraphernalia floating around the school. They found a disgruntled parent and managed to get the whole situation resolved without having to resort to legal action. In most cases, however, this is not the case. These actions often result in protracted court cases that help neither side.

But here, the school district took all the right precautions. They took the textbooks through the public review process. They got consent from all of the parents of the 60 students in their district. They were not misled, nor did they enter into this situation lightly. The question, then, is not if we can undo that decision for them. We have shown that we can. The question is, should we?

In this case, we should not have. They made their decision. They are a right-wing fundamentalist town, and they wanted a right-wing fundamentalist curriculum. It is a perfect example of government at the local level deciding its course. If we wish to return power from the federal and state governments to the localities, we must accept that they will not all fit our conceptions of what is good and right.

Are they wrong? Yes. But we must allow them to find their error on their own. To do what is right, we sometimes have to let people be wrong.

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