So what’s an historian to do? Do I have to swallow these insults in order to build bridges across culture-war divides, as I have suggested mainstream scientists need to do [w.r.t creationism]? Or is it more important to fight back, to take on neo-Confederate historians and activists on a point-by-point refutation?
I can understand why both historians and scientists get angry and feel they must fight. But to fight or not to fight is not the only question. How we fight matters as whether we fight. It’s possible to fight fairly and treat your opponents with respect, something sorely missing with creationists.
Scientists and educators themselves disagree which topics in science are critical for people to learn, and especially non-scientists. Moreover, pretty much everyone agrees that there are many paths to science literacy. Since the experts don’t think evolution is absolutely necessary, and since there are many different ways to cultivate science appreciation and literacy, “fighting” over evolution seems particularly inappropriate.
History is different. Adam can comment more authoritatively, but I get the impression historians agree on a canon that everyone should be exposed to. There also aren’t easy substitutions in history education. You can’t legitimately teach mid-19th century US history and avoid the civil war. But as medical schools all over the world demonstrate, you can teach biology and avoid evolution. “Fighting” might actually be a more appropriate response for history. And even then, we can make sure to to fight fairly and respectfully.
Living in a democracy requires us to draw these types of lines. When it comes to public education, it may be okay to concede on evolution but not history.