Creationism should be taught in schools, says Telegraph
The Telegraph does not of course think that creationism should be taught in schools – though I imagine a certain proportion of its staff and its readers do think so. The title of this article is making mockery of the Telegraph headline, “Creationism should be taught in science lessons, say teachers.” What the Telegraph really meant was that in a survey of sixty six teachers of science or religion, 28 percent said that they would support creationism being taught in schools.
Which I find odd, because 28% of sixty-six is 18.48, and I’m pretty sure you can’t have 0.48 of a person. Maybe I’m just unknowledgeable about the wonders of statistics.
All of this follows on from the Telegraph coverage of Professor Michael Reiss of the Royal Society, who said that teachers should deal with creationism in school if it was raised by pupils. I’m not quite sure why such a controversy was started about that – or by which lobby for that matter – but I’ll tell you now that if any child raises anything subject related in almost any school (apart from a faith school), the teacher will attempt to answer it in the most honest, humane way possible.
The only major exception is in faith schools, where the teachers are often subject to very specific rules about what they can say, lest it be interpreted that they are giving their own opinion, which is a big no-no. For a teacher to say that there is no scientific basis for creationism in a particularly obsessive Catholic school would easily become an issue of some magnitude for the school management. I know that at my school, teachers were reluctant to touch controversial subjects.
However, our religious education classes do talk about the story of creation. Apart from rote-learning the days on which everything was created in the Genesis story, the rival theories of universe-organisation and universe creation are discussed. Genesis, Kant and the Big Bang are all dealt with, and at least in the class which I was part of were implicitly presented as an evolution influenced by scientific developments under thinkers such as Copernicus and Galileo.
It’s less honest in some other schools, but then I’m not apologizing for faith schools.
That is not, however, the crux of the creationist issue. Biology seems to be the battle ground subject now – and Professor Reiss believes that by simply telling children that they are wrong if they are creationist, those children will be alienated. I agree with that, but I have some suspicions that the very idea of a child being told they are wrong in such a controversial matter are slight. They may be told there is no scientific basis behind the view, but that’s not the same thing.
Crucially, what Reiss is in effect demanding is a measuring of the scientific method against other ways of understanding. If we entertain the notion of creationism at all, then we must be prepared to descend into the pit of epistemology, to which all discussions of such a philosophical issue eventually dissolve. I think that in history as in any other subject, epistemological considerations are given much less attention than they deserve, in favour of a simplified, linear tale of development.
That said, I hold no truck with any view that conflicts with the notion that our senses tell an accurate picture of the world. Anything else is a recipe for inactivity, which, whether in politics or science, is simply unacceptable to a world that cries out for the change which others have laboured for and occasionally delivered throughout the ages. Whatever fancy, postmodern attacks on the notion of causality, we don’t need these in a classroom of young children.
To that extent I agree with Reiss, but only insofar as it renews the basis for scientific theories of creation (i.e. evolution, the big bang) and demolishes the basis for creationism. This is not, I think, what Reiss really means however. He means that we should accept woolly notions of ‘faith’ as entirely legitimate grounds for determining ones worldview, whether in respect to religion, arts, sciences or whatever. That is an entirely unacceptable point of view.
The only thing which the Telegraph coverage has managed to add to the debate are some flippant statistics, a reliable generalisation of which doesn’t exist since we don’t know among what type or what geography of teacher the survey was conducted. Bearing in mind my experience of departments of education in universities, it’s also entirely possible that the whole thing is rubbish. What intrigues me is the latent insecurity about what teachers will say to children.
At the head of a classroom, it’s true, the teacher is generally an unchallenged figure of authority – at the very least where knowledge of subject is concerned. However so long as the child attends a relatively liberal school, they will meet other teachers of different views. They will meet pupils willing to debate, which proceeds uncensored either by the exclusion of books from the library or by authoritarian fiat on playground discussion. In my experience, all of this results in a balance.
Whether or not parents agree with this really shouldn’t be the concern of educators. We’re not there to reaffirm comfortably held views. We’re there to provide intellectual challenges, to make children grow in their capacities and knowledge. While I feel very sorry that I might tell a child something a parent dislikes, it’s important to remember that children are not the chattels of their parents. They are individuals and should be engaged with as such – constructively.