Suburban Soliloquy #42

I had just finished taking my bath and was wearing only my bathrobe when she reached my house. It was my plan to climb into bed clean and relaxed, even though it was about noon of a sunny day. My regular readers will recall that I presently work the graveyard shift for AT&T. And Mrs B arrived just at that moment canvassing votes for her election to the Neshaminy School Board.

The fifteenth May was just around the corner. It meant local elections for judges, tax collectors, and members of the school board.

Mrs B is a neighbour, residing at the far other end of our street. I don't know that I have ever met her before, but she presented herself at my doorstep with a good deal of dignity and friendliness. She introduced herself and asked for my help to retain her seat on the school board. I could hardly invite her in, being in a state of undress and our home plainly in shambles. We communicated across the half opened Dutch door, which allowed for some decency.

She began to explain how it was her intentions to continue to provide excellent educational programs while keeping taxes under control, how she has never voted for a budget that would have increased our taxes. Mrs B is a Republican. Our nation's President, George Bush the younger, has a similar attitude about taxes, which is that it is our money and the government isn't entitled to so much of it. Frankly, I feel I could never have earned the income I do had I not been living in a country that provided so much opportunity and security as the United States. My government is part of the reason I can earn good money and live comfortably. I hate to see my tax money wasted or squandered on things that do not meet with my approval, but protecting me and protecting what remains of my income warrants some taxes being paid.

As for education, if only I could be confident the money was being used wisely, I would gladly see more taxes paid. It is my heartfelt belief that a good education for our youth is the only way the world is going to be saved. They will have to find solutions for the many developing dilemmas. So what I presently pay in taxes is not as critical a concern to me as how poorly some of my nation's youth are being educated. And as I had written back in my Eleventh Suburban Soliloquy, "For what reasons do school boards and taxpayers wish to undermine the critical thinking of an education in Science? I can only think of one. The ignorant can be exploited, either as consumers, or voters."

I interrupted Mrs B to answer just one question for me. I wanted to know where she stood on the question of Creationism and Evolution.

Mrs B was taken aback. She studied me to determine my position. She began to answer with a vague generality that was intended to not offend regardless of the position I held. It was good politics but it was a bad compromise. She suggested that both needed to be taught in school, that the open-minded needed to know there was an alternative to Evolution - at which point I revealed myself. I am strongly in favour of the teaching of Evolution and feel equally strong about keeping the pseudoscience of Creationism out of our schools.

She maintained her friendliness and pointed out how Evolution was only a theory and that there were now scientists who were casting doubt on Evolution. I responded that Evolution was a fact, that the theory of Evolution sought to explain the fact, just like our theory of gravity tries to explain the persistence of gravity, gravity also being a rather obvious fact. And as for these alleged scientists who were casting doubt, she couldn't name them and I assured her they were probably quacks; after all, anyone can call themselves a scientist.

Neither of us had lost our tempers. She even laughed and admitted this was a hot topic, like the abortion issue.

It just so happens that Planned Parenthood provides a brochure, as elections approach, that try to give you the candidates' positions on abortion and on sexuality education in our public schools. To acquire this information, they examine the candidates' prior records and media accounts, and they send the candidates questionnaires. A "+" next to a candidates name indicates they generally support comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality education. A "-" means the candidate does not. Nothing next to the name, as was the case with Mrs B, meant "they did not respond and we do not know their views." On that Tuesday of the election, I walked into the voting booth carrying the Planned Parenthood pamphlet as my guide.

The voting machines were set up at the local elementary school, the students enjoying a holiday. Twice after entering the school, before I reached the privacy of the voting booth, I was waylaid by supporters and asked to vote for Mrs B. The law guarantees my right to a secret ballot, but I volunteered both times that I would actually be voting against her. The first waylayer, a very neat young man, asked why. I told him because I had issues with Creationism. The fellow turned positively red, began criticizing Evolution as some kind of infringement on the freedom of religion or something, but I ignored him and walked on while others tried to calm him. And further on I was waylaid by an older gentleman. He asked me pleasantly enough to vote for Mrs B. I told him quite frankly that I was intent on voting against her. He was visibly upset with this news. How was it I had hurt him so deeply? Was I not entitled to a difference of opinion? I wondered to myself if this fellow was maybe Mr B. As I walked on, another reassured him that there were not enough votes against her to matter.

As far as I can tell, Mrs B is a good woman, a woman of principles, and an educated woman. She has her Masters Degree in Library Science from Rutgers University, a fine school. She has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration from Rider University. We even share common ground regarding the community's "uncontrolled growth and overdevelopment." I liked her despite the differences in our opinions, but how strange I must have appeared to her, this disheveled aging hippie, and Atheist, living on her block in the only house that is an eyesore. Did she regard me as something monstrous? Am I viewed as a Liberal among Conservatives, a Democrat among Republicans, or a classless bohemian among the solid middle-class? Did she fear me as much as I fear her.

This entirely good, kind, principled woman is part of a large movement of equally conscientious folks trying to make Christian mythology and superstition the law of our land. They contribute to a growing shadow that would undo science. What do you do when goodhearted people become an unintended threat? The only solution I can see to this growing shadow is better education.

All nations have their arrogant sects, their chauvinists believing they are the best of nations, the most righteous, and theirs is the only true religion, but they aren't (yet) superpowers. How long will the rest of the world tolerate my nation using up the world's resources? How safe can the rest of the world feel when the most powerful military in history comes under the influence of a society with a disintegrating educational system. As the shadow spreads, I grow more anxious for the rest of the world.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the forty-second in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
For further reading, Mr Bentzman's book "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman" is available from Amazon.