Teachable moment

This list of Ten Influential Books at Crooked Timber, and the response it generated from commenters, is doubly interesting for the number of mentions given to The Bell Curve, that classic of pseudoscience excreted by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein in 1994.

The book is relevant because it is still embraced by many conservatives (Andrew Sullivan, who long ago came to his senses about the invasion of Iraq, continues to pat himself on the back for devoting many pages of The New Republic to the book’s quackery), and its bad-faith methodology has plenty of parallels among creationists and climate-change denialists. I was particularly taken with this comment:

I was a sophomore in college when it came out, and had just declared my major in “behavioral science,” i.e. psychology, sociology and anthropology. As a result that semester I was taking intro to psych, intro to soc, intro to cultural anth and intro to physical anth. When the book came out, all four professors dropped everything on their syllabi to devote our full attention to demolishing it premise by premise. So many of my first serious lessons about science, both the proper doing thereof and the easy distortion thereof, came in the context of that book.

I think a similar opportunity is presented by the Texas Board of Education’s recent curriculum change, part of the ongoing wingnut crusade to design an alternative universe in which Thomas Sowell, Glenn Beck, and Newt Gingrich are the brightest intellectual lights. The decision to replace “capitalism” — a concise and perfectly accurate term for our economic system — with the flummery of “free-enterprise society,” for example, is a gold mine for anyone teaching students about jargon, propaganda, Orwellian Newspeak, or basic English.

Teachers within Texas — and, for that matter, parents who don’t want their children swindled out of an education — have every reason for curse the state school board. But the rest of us have been presented with a teachable moment.

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