Anyone who reads W4 knows that I instinctively chamber a round when I hear, read, or smell anything like postmodernism. For that very reason I've always been a rampaging opponent of claims like, "Neutrality is impossible" or "Neutrality is a myth," particularly when applied to epistemological issues. "Neutrality in science is impossible," for example, is wimpish relativistic rhetoric, a counsel of despair, and would, if taken seriously, destroy science. When scientists do not even try to be objective, we get nothing but propaganda. And that's not good.
I've come to think, though, that some people (the ones who really aren't postmodernists) make such statements or agree with such statements because they are thinking about the education of the young. The reasoning goes something like this: "If you're teaching children about all kinds of subjects, including history and science, you're going to make evaluations that are going to be influenced by moral considerations and sometimes metaphysical and religious considerations. It would be artificial to refuse to answer Johnny's question about whether someone in history was good or bad because you wanted to be 'neutral'. Educating children involves imparting a unified view of the world, including matters of evaluation and commitment. Therefore it is ridiculous to think that you can just neutrally teach some subject."
If that's what people mean or what people are thinking, locutions like, "History is not neutral" or "Science is not neutral" are pretty confusing ways of expressing that thought.
So I propose that we ditch, reject, and fight the idea that neutrality in knowing facts is impossible. Neutrality in knowing facts is not only possible but desirable--a goal to be aimed for, not an impossibility to be despaired of. Instead, I suggest that we talk about the other "myth of neutrality," which is a myth of neutrality regarding the education of the young.
When it comes to education, it really is not only undesirable but also extremely difficult in several important subjects to teach those subjects without introducing controversial or moral considerations.
Certainly, it's entirely possible for a Christian child to have a non-Christian math teacher and for this not to involve any controversial subjects. (At least it should be. Let's please get rid of politicized break-out boxes about the "achievements" of this or that victim group.) I suppose that even there the examples chosen for story problems might present opportunities for some issues. More to the point, it's perfectly legitimate for a parent to want a child to be able to go off-topic occasionally, even far off-topic, and for his teacher to be able to respond in a way that reinforces the truth. This is all the more important for younger children. Spontaneity in discussion is legitimate and enjoyable as long as it doesn't mean that the subject at hand simply gets left by the wayside indefinitely.
And then there's the other unfortunate fact: Even in objective areas, our silly educational establishment has decided that certain ways of teaching are old-fashioned and conservative, so that it is considered controversial to teach phonics or the times tables. Hence even though I do not agree that there should be anything controversial, much less that there is anything political, about these things, the educrats will tell you that there is, which means that parents may want their children to have what is called a "conservative" or "traditional" education even in cut-and-dried areas, just to make sure they get educated at all.
Once we get past the three R's, there are plenty of subjects--history is an excellent example--where it is both possible to know truth about facts and also entirely impossible to teach the subject well without having an opinion about both the selection and evaluation of those facts, which opinion will doubtless be controverted by plenty of other people.
It's completely understandable and legitimate, indeed, important, for Christian parents and conservative parents to want their children's teachers and textbooks to teach these subjects from a perspective that they consider reasonable. Again, this is most important in the younger and more formative years.
These meandering thoughts lead me to think of the other, other myth of neutrality--namely the myth that it is possible to run a country without having any substantive opinions about what is good. Now, that's too big of a topic even to say much about at the end of a post, but I will note the similarity to education:
As a rule of thumb, the less purely technical and circumscribed an area of endeavor, the more that area involves people's lives considered more broadly, the more difficult it is to do it well while being neutral on moral matters. What is likely to happen instead is that one puts in place a faux neutrality which is actually entirely substantive. So, for example, if we teach children about the mechanics of various sexual acts, we are not merely teaching them facts. We are also teaching them that the acts being described are morally permissible, that this information is appropriate for them to have at their age, and that it is appropriate for them to consider applying this information to their lives in the near future. To pretend otherwise is to lie, and to lie in the name of retaining power. In law, if we pretend that making assisted suicide legal is merely neutrally allowing people "a choice" and has no substantive implications, we are lying.
I would guess that frustration with lies of that sort leaves ordinary people open to sweeping, and unfortunate, denunciations of the possibility of objective knowledge.