The mention of schools + science + skepticism sparked something interesting in me. As I mentioned in my last entry, in 1998 I was reading Awake My Glory. But in 1996 I was reading The Psychology of The Psychic and looking for Skeptic magazine at the library (I kept seeing references to it in the catalog but never found it.) I was reading and looking for those because of a project assigned in science class: read a science fiction book and then write a report about why the "fiction" part is/must be fictional. (As usual, I read more than I needed to for the report, yet had a really tough time coming up with the requisite three or four or whatever pages.) I read about how Harry Houdini conducted experiments to test other magicians' work. I read a paragraph that can be read to anyone as their personalized horoscope and often met with "wow, that's spot-on!" I read about telekinesis and aura photography in books that believed it was valuable (okay, I guess I got a bit sidetracked.)
And yet this skepticism and application of the scientific method didn't carry over into my critical (or maybe "not so critical") evaluation of things like Judaism or Awake My Glory.
Moreover - in that same seventh grade science class, an interesting incident occurred. On a test, we were given a little story about someone applying the scientific method to some theory she had about plant growth. The directions said to find and correct all the things she was doing wrong. The opening lines were something like "Rochel was given a small corn plant. She measured the plant and it was 2 mm." When the teacher handed back our tests, she told us she was surprised that so many of us had missed a major part of that question. Two millimeters couldn't be the right size for a corn plant; Rochel must have measured wrong, and we should have noted that.
But to us, information was presented as fact, thus it must be fact. The story said someone obtained a measurement of 2 mm, so that must be what it is. It seemed off, but we weren't there, so we have no option other than to take it as written.
I think that really reflects the mentality imparted by the Orthodox world - or at least my Orthodox world - about history (and religious issues) in general. There's that (famous?) midrash that Moses was 10 cubits (roughly equivalent to 15 feet) tall. Many people believe that and take it literally, even though, like a corn plant being 2 mm, it doesn't mesh with what we know about the species. An authority says it, and we weren't there, so what other choice do we have? I was fed so many wacky things as bald simple fact and I took them as such because I was a kid and they were adults and even if things didn't mesh with my current observations of the current world, it's not like I could easily prove or disprove them.
(I was also told as a kid that Darwinian evolution had been disproven by science, which led to an embarrassing conversation followed by lots of googling in my freshman year of college.)