Monday, August 10, 2009

How an open-minded museum behaves

A couple years ago, I shared a class with a student who was working at the UM's Museum of Natural History. I took the opportunity to express the shock I had felt when I encountered a set of dioramas depicting Indians in villages, doing Indian things and whatnot. An anthropology museum, sure, but natural history? As if Indians weren't humans?

The student explained to me that the dioramas were some 50 years old, that many older patrons had cherished memories of them, and the museum staff found it all a terrible dilemma. They fully understood the problem with them, but just doing away with the exhibit was not so easy to do.

A few weeks went by and one day this same student turned to me and said, "I have to tell you what happened at the museum the other day!" It seemed a handful of undergraduates, goaded by their instructor into making some exhibitionist stand against the dominant imperialist culture, had stormed the museum and loudly protested the dioramas. It was, to put it mildly, disruptive; it was meant to be disruptive (you can read part of the story here, but unfortunately the second page of the article isn't archived). Allowing themselves to be ignored would have defeated the entire operation.

What did the museum staff do? Not much, other than explain to the other visitors what was going on and why. They didn't call the police, nor did they have guards with guns and tasers hauling out these kids who were interfering with the other patrons' experience. No, they seized the educational opportunity and explained what the controversy was about.

So keep that in mind while you read Ken Ham's self-congratulatory tale of how his armed guards only threw two atheists out of the Creation Museum (one of them for the intolerable crime of wearing a t-shirt with a slogan the other visitors didn't agree with, the other for trying to film the removal). Mind you, this is his own account, pimped to show you how unbelievably tolerant he is. And compare it to what a real museum does when faced with dissenting views.


James Hanley said...

They should have just tazered the students. That's the American way.

Scott Hanley said...

That's what real Americans do. We're talking about sissy college liberals here.

James Hanley said...

Sissy college wonder their football programs in decline.