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Teaching the Teachers
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

When wisdom is not properly utilized, and one forgets to seek the prior causes and sources, truth becomes distorted. It is even possible to deify a particular creature or creation, as a result of forgetting about the original cause - the Creator of the universe. - The Rebbe, Mind Over Matter, Ch.6.

 
Faith.
Science.
Two solitudes.
Or are they?
 
One G-d made them both,
So why don't they mesh?
Or do they?
 
They work together pretty well in the summertime, out in "G-d's country." You watch a sunset - heavenly. You study a bug on a leaf or watch a waterfall - miraculous. Listen to the birds singing in the woods in the morning - divinely awesome.
 
But then fall lands and you're back in the city. And if you happen to be a teenager in public school or even your typical religious school for that matter, the very same exquisite natural wonders that switched on your soul in the summer, are now plain facts coldly framed in the mechanistic ideology of your run of the mill science curriculum.
 
Well, what can you do? Summer is vacation, an escape from the reality of everyday life. That gives the other three seasons a kind of exalted moral status - come September, you are not just goofing off, you are getting an Education!
 
Indeed there are many good reasons for getting a good education. It teaches you skills, socialization, language, critical thinking, math, arts, culture - the list goes on. But what if the price of this ostensibly good education includes getting indoctrinated, implicitly at least, in the atheistic dogma that underlies so much of our secular curriculum? Do we actually want our children to learn in school that the Creator of the universe is basically irrelevant, that there is no reason to consider the existence of a soul, and that human life is insignificant in the grand scheme of things?
 
Whether we like it or not, these three "pillars" of secular society are imprinted on our minds from childhood by the secular nature of our educational system. That system itself is shaped by a rational materialistic dogma that took root in the 18th Century, flourished in the 19th, and was then displaced by scientific advances early in the 20th.
 
The ironic thing is that now in the 21st Century, while science and popular culture have evolved way past those archaic, mechanistic views of nature, our science curriculums keep plodding along as if nothing has changed. The result is - no Creator, no soul, and no meaning to life, and all in the name of a science that nowadays takes an opposite view.
 
Thanks to innovations like quantum physics, relativity and chaos theory, the new view of science includes faith friendly notions such as these: That there is some indivisible wholeness, even a consciousness that underlies all physical reality; that there is some transcendent self that is associated with our physical bodies; and that yes, our lives are meaningful, even integral, to the whole of nature, from the subatomic all the way to the intergalactic.
 
Sadly, none of this matters to most people. The kids are too naïve, their parents are too busy, teachers are just doing their job as they were trained to, and those that teach the teachers were themselves taught by teachers that inherited the old mentality from their forebears. So now we are stuck. Or so it seems.
 
The fact is there are solutions, and some can be implemented fairly quickly.
 
Let's take for example a Chabad-style high school that teaches science from secular textbooks. About a half-year ago, you may have read my article called "Scientism in a Chabad School," which was specifically about such a case.  In that detailed article, I analyzed the space science and biology units, identified the problem areas, reviewed various ways of dealing with the situation, and settled on one approach that seems to hold the most promise.
 
The story there was that issues arose over the origin and age of the universe, the motions of stars and planets, and how biological species came to be. On the surface of things, science has one explanation and Torah has another very different one. How does one deal with that?
 
Some use apologetics to resolve such issues. This promotes assuming that Genesis is more literary than literal, and that therefore one may interpret Torah verses to be verifying whatever scientific theory is currently fashionable. Applying this approach, one translates "Let there be light" into the Big Bang and the six creation days into 13.7 billion years. It also invites one to interpret Torah's teachings about everything revolving around the earth as being anything from simplistic to downright wrong.
 
But while that approach may work well for some, Chabad has another standard in education - the Rebbe's. For the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the consummate Torah scholar who is also tremendously erudite in the sciences, these answers just don't work. For the Rebbe, the six days were just that, the earth is central and things turn around it, and the diversity of life was specifically created and did not happen by any kind of Darwinian evolution over millions and billions of years.
 
So how does the Rebbe deal with the science? Simple. He fights fire with fire. He turns the questions around and puts the burden of proof on the scientists, claiming that they have misapplied their own craft and come to conclusions that science itself does not require in any way, shape or form.
 
The Rebbe's arguments and counterclaims are of course impeccable and compelling, but for whom? Do the students who are slaving away towards passing their Regents have any clue what those arguments and counterclaims are? Not really. They are busy doing what they are "supposed" to do, namely to assiduously learn, understand and commit to memory a whole raft of concepts that their Rebbe diametrically opposes.
 
The implicit messages are troublesome - For one, the truth doesn't matter, what matters is this material that my teachers and parents say I must know. Second, when the Tanya says secular science contaminates the soul, that's not so important either. After all, according to science, I don't necessarily have one. And if I do, it's not accountable to any divine Being. Moreover that Being may or may not exist, and if He does exist, there's no proof of Him in history anyway because the tradition from Sinai is just one religion on the menu. Furthermore nothing I do makes any difference because life is just a cosmic hiccup and my life in particular is absolutely worthless because I'm just a tiny speck in an enormous galaxy in a gargantuan universe.
 
One recommended way of dealing with this issue is to provide a counterpoint companion curriculum that could be taught before each questionable unit and subunit of the regular curriculum. There needs to be ready sample lesson plans and resource material that is grade appropriate and that can be open-ended enough so that the student or teacher who wants to delve deeper has ready tools to do so.
 
Of course very few teachers could come up with such material on themselves, so it would have to be provided to them. The school administration needs to be on board as well in order to require that the material be distributed and taught to the students and tested as well.
 
Chabad schools are typically undercapitalized so my resolution is to try to develop suitable material for high school use over the coming weeks and present some of it in my weekly column, and the rest to archive online. I invite any and all of you to contribute to this effort.
 
If you can contribute any age-appropriate handouts or lesson plans that can address these specific issues from a Chabad perspective, please do so (via
info@arniegotfryd.com) and I will try to include them in the archive.
 
Here are some of "scientism's" articles of faith posing as science fact in our kids' high school textbooks.
 
Ø     The universe was created 14 billion years ago;
Ø     The universe originated in a Big Bang event;
Ø     The universe has evolved over billions of years to form stars and planets including the sun and the earth;
Ø     The earth is not unique, but there are countless planets just like it many of which have life;
Ø     The diversity of life on earth evolved through random mutation and natural selection over billions of years;
Ø     The earth orbits the sun just like those distant planets orbit their stars;
Ø     The earth spins on its axis which explains day and night and the motion of the stars;
Ø     Modern observations on earth and in space confirm all this;
Ø     Scientists the world over agree on all this.
 
None of these statements are true, either according to science, or according to Torah. Allowing them to sit unaddressed in our school curricula can only increase the confusion, ignorance, laxity and apathy that all too often characterize our youth. May our efforts to refine the minds of our youth bear fruit and empower them to realize their potential as proud, informed and inspired Chassidim of the Rebbe and proceed with clarity and wholehearted commitment to greet Moshiach NOW!



Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To contact, read more or to book him for a talk, visit
www.arniegotfryd.com or call 416-858-9868

 

 


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