April 10, 2015 (BreakPoint.org) — Already this year, we’ve seen a lot of evil: suicide bombings, the attacks in Paris, religious persecution, Boko Haram and ISIS. These have all outraged the world—and rightly so. But here’s a question worth pondering: will our kids be able to recognize evil when they see it? Do they even believe in moral facts?
Well, that’s the question one educator asked recently in The New York Times after making a surprising discovery about what his child was learning in school.
Justin McBrayer, an associate professor of ethics at Fort Lewis College, says he couldn’t figure out why the high school graduates showing up in his classroom had no concept of moral truth. The overwhelming majority of freshmen, he says, “view[ed] moral claims as mere opinions that are not true,” or are true only in a relative sense.
McBrayer was puzzled about this until he visited a school open house with his second-grade son. It was there that he encountered a pair of signs hanging prominently in the classroom. The first read, “Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.” The next one said, “Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.”
Startled by this oversimplification, McBrayer was sure it must be a fluke. So he went home and Googled “fact vs. opinion.” And sure enough, he found lesson plans from educators around the country that alarmed him.
“…students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions,” McBrayer writes. “They are given quizzes in which they must sort out claims into one camp or the other but not both.”
The problem with this, he explains, is that many claims don’t fit nicely into either category. Many claims are both facts and opinions, because opinions, of course, can be true or false. And he decided to test whether his son understood this.
“I believe that George Washington was the first president,” he said to him. “Is that a fact or an opinion?” And the second-grader’s blank expression when the statement didn’t fit his categories, McBrayer writes, said it all.
But it gets even worse. A little digging reveals that public schools today teach, as a matter of course, that all value claims are opinions, not facts. One grade-school worksheet, for example, categorized the statements “copying homework is wrong,” “cursing in school is inappropriate,” and “all men are created equal,” as opinions—not facts.
“This is repeated ad nauseum,” McBrayer writes. “[A]ny claim with good or right or wrong, etc. is not a fact.”
But if value statements are always opinions, why should anyone believe them? For that matter, why should kids believe a teacher who tells them that hitting is wrong? Or a college ethics professor who tells them murder is wrong?
It’s a problem that’s not restricted to second-grade classrooms. As Jamie Condliff writes at Gizmodo, researchers at Google have reportedly pioneered a new algorithm that ranks Web pages by how well their claims stack up against a library of established so-called “facts.” That library, known as Google’s “Knowledge Vault,” is programmed to sort claims into facts and opinions—just like McBrayer’s son.
“If web pages contain information that contradicts the Vault,” writes Condliff, “they slide down in the ranking.”
Unlike Common Core standards, Google’s system hasn’t been implemented yet. But if it is, our world’s most sought after source of information will be silencing dissent on controversial topics, like origins, climate change, and sexuality.
Now we need to know all of this not so we can panic, but so that we can counteract the false dichotomy so many of our kids are learning. There are moral facts. And if you need some help on how to approach this with your teenager or college age student—send them to a Summit Ministries’ summer worldview conference. It’s simply the best apologetics and worldview training program out there for students. Visit summit.org to learn more. And to see an excellent talk on moral truth by my friend Sean McDowell, come to BreakPoint.org and click on this commentary. It’s called, “Is There Truth, a Moral Law That We Can All Know?” and it’s terrific. Again, that’s BreakPoint.org.
Reprinted with permission from BreakPoint.