Ignorance Breeds Obedience — That’s Why Some Parents Prefer It

Keeping kids uneducated about sex, history and mental health is how right-wing parents maintain authority — and it’s child abuse.

Tim Wise

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Image: Roman Samborskyi, Shutterstock, standard license, purchased by the author

It was nearly a century ago that Tennessee, the state where I was born and have lived for most of my life, outlawed the teaching of evolution in schools.

The Butler Act, as it was known, drew praise from perennial presidential candidate and former Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, who thanked the Governor for signing it by saying:

“The Christian parents of the state owe you a debt of gratitude for saving their children from the poisonous influence of an unproven hypothesis.”

The Act also drew legal action from the ACLU, which decided to test the law by funding a case involving a substitute teacher, John Scopes, who noted that he had indeed taught from the chapter of the state-mandated textbook describing evolution.

The resulting trial, which featured Bryan as a special prosecutor for the state and famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow representing Scopes, became a national sensation to which millions listened on live radio throughout the country.

After the judge denied the defense the right to introduce evidence challenging the statute itself, and since Scopes admitted to violating the law, he was found guilty and fined.

Ultimately, the Butler Act would not be repealed until 1967, one year before the Supreme Court voided all such laws on the grounds that their primary purpose was to codify religious belief, and thus, were violative of the First Amendment.

If kids learned to question the Biblical narrative of man’s origins, what else might they question?

What the so-called “monkey trial” suggested was a desire on the part of ultra-conservative and fundamentalist Christians to stifle critical thinking and science in the name of their faith.

Fearful that young people might be corrupted by the theory of evolution, even though it had been widely accepted by that time among scientists and featured prominently…

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Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)