Today I encountered something so sad and so shocking that I was rendered momentarily speechless. Over on PZ Myers’ blog, I read that Ancient Aliens is being used by one Texas public school as a serious investigation of the human past. The report comes from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, a group that has monitored the influence of creationism in Texas schools since the 2007 law allowing for the teaching of the “influence” of the Bible on history and literature.
The perverse result of the law is that Ancient Aliens is now considered an example of how the Bible has influenced “historians.” According to the press release for the report:
Students in another [Texas] district spend two days watching what lesson plans describe a[s] “the historic documentary Ancient Aliens,” which presents “a new interpretation of angelic beings described as extraterrestrials.”
These are PUBLIC SCHOOLS teaching students that angels are aliens? On the authority of Giorgio Tsoukalos?!? For TWO DAYS? (I'm going to generously assume that two days were needed to get through one hour-long episode, probably S02E07 "Aliens and Angels," since most high school classes are just over 30 minutes long.)
I reviewed the full report to find out more. Here is the relevant section, discussing a Biblical studies course offered in Port Isabel, Texas:
Students in the Point Isabel ISD course spent two days watching what lesson plans describe as “the historic documentary Ancient Aliens,” which presents “a new interpretation of angelic beings described as extraterrestrials.” Students were then asked to “write a small paragraph on how valid they think the ancient alien theory is.” It is unclear from the course materials how critical the teacher’s presentation of this material was, but the designation of two days for a video on this offbeat topic seems questionable given the large amount of material Bible courses are expected to cover.
Remember: This is a course on THE BIBLE.
I’m often asked what the harm is in Ancient Aliens; after all, isn’t it just fun? Well, here’s the harm. Students are learning Ancient Aliens in school. Now, when I was in college, we watched the 1973 In Search of Ancient Astronauts documentary, the one that introduced Erich von Däniken to America, but it was immediately followed by the Nova/Horizon debunking of the same—and this was in a course on critical thinking. I’d like to think Port Isabel is engaging in the same activity, but since it’s a Bible course (one of many that TNF accused of teaching biblical literalism, creationism, and the coming of the apocalypse), I can’t imagine that’s the case. Even if the teacher did criticize Ancient Aliens, there’s a better than even chance it was for being insufficiently credulous about the existence of actual angels.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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