Beware, a little thinking is a dangerous thingI’ve got a dangerous idea. Close all the elementary schools and turn them into giant libraries, games rooms and sports facilities. There’d be no need for teachers, exams and curricula. No more useless text books, regimented schedules and bullies.
“First, God created idiots. That was just for practice. Then he created school boards.” Thank you, Mark Twain.
I thought I was alone with my anarchist thoughts. Then I discovered an essay by the psychologist Roger C. Schank in “What is Your Dangerous Idea?”
Schank is truly radical. “Schools should simply cease to exist as we know them,” he fumes. “We need to stop producing a nation of stressed-out students who learn how to please the teacher instead of pleasing themselves,” he writes.
What is Your Dangerous Idea? was put together last year by John Brockman, editor of Edge (www.edge.org), a site devoted to science, technology and the so-called Third Culture.
Each year Edge poses a highbrow question and eggheads around the world try to answer. For 2007, the psychologist Steven Pinker, one of more than 100 scientists contributing their ideas, said history was packed with dangerous ideas.
Copernicus and Darwin, for instance, introduced concepts that left the world reeling. The Earth goes round the sun? We’re descended from apes?
Pinker called on Edge readers to submit ideas that were dangerous not because they were assumed to be false, but because they might be true.
The writers ― evolutionary biologists, geneticists, computer scientists, neurophysiologists and physicists ― had two to three pages to package their thoughts.
Sam Harris bludgeons religion in his “Science Must Destroy Religion” chapter. “Iron Age beliefs ― about God, the soul, sin, free will, and so on ― continue to impede medical research and distort public policy,” Harris fumes.
Judith Rich Harris (no relation) argues parents have zero influence over their kids, except a genetic one. She challenges anyone to find research that supports the theory that parenting actually influences kids.
John Allen Paulos, a mathematician at Temple University, gets heavy. He says the concept of the self is an illusion. We’re just an “ever-changing collection of beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes.” The “self” is non-existent.
If this belief became widely accepted “its effects on society would be incalculable,” he argues.
Oliver Morton, chief news and features editor of “Nature” magazine, says environmentalists have got it all wrong.
The Earth is not in danger from pollution. In fact, life was a lot worse in the Permian period 250 millions years ago, and 50 million years ago the Eocene makes an industrial town in southern China look like the Garden of Eden.
Morton claims the planet will take care of itself, and environmental damage will harm humans only.
What is Your Dangerous Idea? is a fascinating collection of scientific ideas that rarely get heard in the media or in schools.
The writers rail against the blinkered vision of politicians and lobby groups that put self-interest before scientific fact.
Some of the ideas make for uncomfortable reading, especially for anyone seeking Ultimate Truths. “We humans can and do make up own purposes, but ultimately the universe has none,” sighs psychologist Susan Blackmore.
The writers are almost all American, or from American universities. Another volume could include writers from beyond the U.S. academic world.
This book should be required reading in schools, if they haven’t been abolished yet.
By Michael Gibb Deputy Editor [email@example.com]