Saturday, February 23, 2008

Darwin, Science & Slavery

(Straying off topic here. But, this has something to do with Black history...maybe.)

My son refers to himself as a scientist. We’ve been doing a lot of "science" lately. Our most recent experiment was figuring out whether the heart shaped Hershey’s kisses have more chocolate that the regular ones. (They do. )

I got a lot of funny looks from the husband this morning while Winston and I were doing some science work. (Actually - I was talking about Darwin because the boy chose to eavesdrop on my surfing.) Even though I repeat myself often, this is obviously the first time the husband has heard this lecture.

Prefacing a Darwin explanation, I say, “ Now, remember, scientists are just people who make up stories about how our world works. Then they test these ideas. They make a lot of mistakes until it seems like they can make everybody else believe their idea is right. Then, they tell everyone that their idea is right and why. Then, everyone agrees that this story is part of our consensual reality...until someone proves the original scientist wrong.” My son has it down the fact that Darwin says great grandma was a monkey doesn’t make my 4 year old nervous. After all, Darwin was just a scientist - a person who things up.

Recently, on an email list for Black homeschoolers, a post came through which linked to a video about Darwin. This video portrays Darwin as pro-slavery and the originator racism and the inspiration for nazism. I shall not embed this here.

Recently, I had an opportunity to read about Darwin’s position on slavery, in his own words:

“Those who look tenderly at the slave-owner and with cold heart at the slave, never seem to put themselves into the position of the latter; - what a cheerless prospect, with not even a hope of change! Picture to yourself the chance, ever hanging over you, of your wife and your little children - those objects which nature urges even the slave to call his own - being torn from you and sold like beast to the first bidder! And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth!”

I don’t know which is more dangerous - sending children to school to be miseducated or keeping children at home to be miseducated (albeit with a positive afro-centric focus.) Here we are again at the lesser of two evils.

Maybe I’m just strange. I have my child at home because I want him to question everything, including Darwin’s theory of evolution. Over time, I want him to learn to go to the original source; analyse it's content and impact; think critically; compare and contrast the source from spin offs; and use the context of a person's life, cultural and historical context as a measure.

It important to examine people within the context of of their time period. So many historical figures are not the heroes we'd like to believe they are. So many people make the mistake of teaching history as a list of heroes and villains. The heroes brought some small value or lasting relevant change. The villains opposed what we currently think is appropriate thought or behaviour. But - history is the true stories of people - not a fairy tale where good and evil are clear cut and easily recognised. This is why it is important for our children to learn the truth and also to think critically enough to salvage the good from the bad.

Then again, we’re all just monkeys. And I like to dance.

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