Creating an educational problem

Where in the course of education information, speculation, analysis or assertion is presented to students, it may be right or it may be wrong – or maybe just debatable. But it will not be right or wrong because legislation tells us so. Therefore it was inappropriate for the Tennessee legislature in 2012 to enact a law that protects the teaching of creationism and teaching that attacks global warming theory. Legislators have no special scientific or general scholarly insight that equips them to declare or indeed debunk received wisdom.

But before we get all indignant and superior about Tennessee, let us look at something closer to home, right now. The Scottish Secular Society has been lobbying politicians to do the reverse of Tennessee, that is to issue guidance to prohibit the teaching of creationism, or as the Society puts it, ‘evolution denial’. Interestingly, this move has been resisted by the trade union Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS).

Law or government action should never entrench a view as being ‘correct as a matter of law’. Whether something is right or wrong should be left to analysis and debate, and nobody should ever be told that a particular perspective, even where this perspective is rejected by society as a whole or parts of it, may not legally be addressed in schools or educational institutions. If today government can prohibit any reference to creationism in education, then tomorrow it could use the law to prohibit the teaching of other matters it considers to be uncomfortable. Truth needs to be discovered and tested, not declared to be truth by state power.

I do not myself regard creationism to be valid science (as distinct from theology), but I trust the teaching profession to handle this appropriately. If the enforced teaching of creationism is wrong (as it undoubtedly is), then so is a legal or governmental order that prohibits any reference to it in schools or colleges. Finding the truth is an intellectual pursuit, not a legal one. The Scottish Secular Society should be robustly resisted in this matter.

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6 Comments on “Creating an educational problem”

  1. no-name Says:

    “Law or government action should never entrench a view as being ‘correct as a matter of law’.”

    Should this principle generalize to languages in which views are expressed? Is it fitting for a majority (or a minority) to put into place a legal framework that declares what language should or should not be used for certain purposes? Are not such enactments destined to create regret when demographics change and recently entitled languages are then outlawed in return?

  2. V.H Says:

    How is it then the Irish judiciary have dodged all attempts to use them to expose Rights that will patently be blocked should it become an issue for the Constitutional referendum.
    The Constitutional settlement is in place to mitigate the dictatorship of the mass/majority. And their place in it is designed to protect the individual Citizen. That they have ignored this core responsibility and at all times have proven themselves a creature of the establishment is without a doubt, nonetheless, I am ever hopeful.
    Still, can you really see the benchers of the Kings Inns at Dublin standing up to the 2009 Act on blasphemy and uphold Article 40.6.1.i.

  3. Funny that in your search for the truth, you seem to be unable to provide it to your readers.
    The Scottish Secular Society’s petition asked that special creation not be taught as science – since it quite clearly isn’t. It did not try and ban the subject from schools, just request that it be represented as what it is, a religious position.
    The EIS have not formally responded, and Ken Cunningham, “general secretary of School Leaders Scotland (SLS)” Is a preacher at a local creationist church.

  4. Have you actually read the relevant petition text?

    You seriously misrepresent what is being sought within it. The petitions asks that creationism and similar beliefs are not presented as scientifically valid alternatives to evolution, deep time and common descent. That is something which we should not need to ask for, as they are clearly not valid alternatives. It also specifically says that this is not to bar said beliefs from discussion elsewhere in the curriculum. Therefore, when you say that we seek to ban discussion of it, you are wrong.

    In addition, you state that teachers are able to handle this professionally, but teachers themselves have asked for guidance on this specific issue. Indeed, teachers are as liable as anyone else to have strongly held beliefs which they could pursue out of the desire to do right by their pupils.,We see this very scenario often in the US education system precisely because this kind of guidance does not exist, where creationism is now rampant and creationist teachers deny evolution in an attempt to lead their pupils to salvation.

    Simply put, the science classroom is a place for science. This petition does not outlaw the discussion of creationism in the science classroom, it simply says that creationism cannot be presented as scientifically valid. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming and universally accepted by reputable scientists, and so that is what should be taught..

  5. SecularSpen Says:

    To my knowledge the EIS have not officially responded to the petition. Do you know something I don’t?

    No one is “superior or indignant” about the SSS petition which merely Calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.

    Within the devolved educational infrastructure our leaders (and rightly so) only touch from a distance, they leave the day to day job and much of the detail up to those best equipped – our educationalists, we fully support the continuity of this.

    Unfortunately we do have an issue with creationism in our schools, we have submitted the evidence to the PPC who deemed it strong enough to warrant further investigation. The BCSE and 3 Noble prize winners support us in our actions.

    However, lets be clear here, we are are NOT telling anyone they cannot discuss creationism within context. Science is not a context to discuss creationism, if this is the case then can we introduce the scientific method to what is taught in RME? Lets go further and introduce Picasso into Economics, no? of course not, they are incompatible and it would be folly to assert otherwise.

    There are many environments to which we can philosophise. Evolution denial (and it is) must not be allowed to sneak in under the door. We have a fantastic approach to the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland, contrary to how some religionists (and indeed our misguided politicians) would frame our petition seeking “change” to the CfE, we do not. We seek to protect the CfE, we do not seek legislative change we merely seek clarity and guidance, right now our teaching community do not have such a reference point when they are confronted with Young Earth/Creationism/ID – whatever form is chooses to masquarade as.

    I was exposed to this nonsense as a child
    My Eldest daughter was exposed to this nonsense as a child
    My youngest daughter was exposed to this nonesense as a child
    My 5 year old boy has just embarked on his journey, he will NOT be exposed to this nonsense.

    Spencer Fildes

  6. The Educational Institute of Scotland was invited by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to comment on the petition after its meeting of November 11, at which I and the SSS Chair, Spencer Fildes, gave evidence that creationism is being resented as valid in Scottish schools. As of noon today, EIS had not replied, although there have been informal statements quoted in newspapers. If Professor von Prondzynski has information about an officially adopted position, all of us would be interested to learn of it.

    I sympathise with his argument, but wonder how he, as a specialist in industrial relations law, would react if school chaplains and volunteers, motivated by St Paul’s views on this topic, were telling classes that employees should not form unions but should instead rely on the goodwill of their masters. Replace St Paul with Genesis, and evolution with industrial relations, and that is what we are up against. Our petition specifies “presented”, rather than taught, since it iis generally not the teachers who are the problem.

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