Home School Day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium allows kids who are educated at home to have the same visiting privileges as kids who visit as part of school groups. Many of the homeschooled are kept away from schools because their parents are fundamentalists. So it's not surprising that on Home School Day on Nov. 8, George Post overheard a docent telling a group, "This fossilized seashell is around 80 million years old," to which one kid responded, "Excuse me, but how is that even possible, since the Earth itself is only 6,000 years old?"
The aquarium's Ken Peterson says although the aquarium "is a scientific organization," staff members and volunteers do their best to make sure visits are "productive and respectful." That means, he said, that talks to these visitors don't focus on how the Earth came to be but rather how it is now, and the universal obligation to take care of it for future generations. As to creationism versus evolution, "we acknowledge theories exist," but the desired focus, he said, is how "we can all be better stewards."
Post, a photographer, sent some photos of cards homeschooled kids had posted on bulletin boards in the aquarium's learning center. Among them: God "will bring to ruin those who are ruining the earth," a quote from the Bible; "God is grate"; "It's a big hoax you crazy lunatics. Global warming is happening as fast as it was 6,000 years ago."
Something like that happened to me once, many years ago when I was teaching freshman English in Texas. I had assigned a particularly eloquent passage from Darwin's Origin of Species to an honors class, ready to talk about prose style, when one of them raised her hand to advance the proposition that Darwin's theory had been disproved by the second law of thermodynamics. Naturally, like most English teachers, I had forgotten what the second law of thermodynamics was. (Entropy in closed systems, which organic systems aren't, so the second law doesn't apply.) Unprepared to reply, I gulped, muttered something like "perhaps," and forged ahead with whatever I was prepared to say about sentence structure. I heard her whisper to a friend, "Look how red he's turning."
So Garchik's anecdote leaves me wondering: What was the docent's answer to the question? How do you handle blind ideology "productively and respectfully"? How, in a "scientific organization," is it possible to reply intelligently to anti-scientific thinking? Why would fundamentalist home-schoolers even let their blinkered darlings loose in a place full of scientists?
And isn't there a way we can charge these parents with intellectual child abuse?