What New Media Can Do

The Education news from my old state (perhaps my new state too) is not good. The Texas Board of Education has apparently approved a Taliban style social studies curriculum, designed to reflect a narrow Christian ideology rather than a consensus of historical opinion (“Texas Board Approves New Social Studies Curriculum“). I don’t think calling this Taliban-like is inappropriate, either. Religious fundamentalism hates change and debate, above all else, in Texas as much as in Afghanistan. This is a form of religious belief that’s dependent on enforced ignorance. You can’t believe, apparently, in the face of knowledge.

I think this sort of fundamentalism represents a particularly despicable form of cowardice. It’s one thing to want to disagree with everyone who knows anything about a subject. If you want to believe that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, or that banana peals soaked in lime juice will cure cancer, that’s your own business. This form of fundamentalist thinking, though, fears open debate as a threat to its very existence. It’s as if they worry that we have such a strong natural affinity to credible argument it’s dangerous to expose us to it.

If their beliefs are so strong, why not let them compete openly in the “market” of ideas? In Southwestern Louisiana (where I’ve been staying) local religious factions squeezed out National Public Radio (hardly a communist cabal). As anyone who travels around the country knows, wherever there’s a public radio station there’s a Christian right station that’s so close it can interfere with reception. Choking off debate in public schools and on the radio are all old media strategies; they are sure to loose their efficacy as new media matures. That’s the good news. We have history on our side, as they say.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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