OK to teach creationism “in context”, says Scottish Government

AngelaConstanceMSP20110510.JPG

Angela Constance, Mike Russell’s replacement, November 2014, as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning

Some of us had been wondering whether the replacement of Mike Russell by Angela Constance as Scottish Education Secretary would see any improvement in the Government’s “See no evil” approach to the problem of creationism in schools. We have not had long to wait. The answer is no. On the contrary, things suddenly seem to have got a whole lot worse.

Regular readers will know of the Scottish Secular Society’s Petition to the Scottish Parliament, in which we seek

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.

The Government’s response to the Committee, issued December 15, over the signature of Tim Simons, Head of Curriculum Unit, Learning Directorate, states that, on the contrary,

There is no intention, either stated or implied, for schools to limit classroom discussion and debate about complex, challenging or controversial topics such as those posed by Creationism. For example, within the context of the delivery of the “Experiences and Outcomes” in Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Religious and Moral Education it is likely that concepts of creationism and evolution, will be discussed in a variety of contexts. Moreover, Creationism is not identified as a scientific theory or a topic within Curriculum for Excellence. Evolution however is specifically covered in the “Experiences and Outcomes” for the sciences.

Education Scotland’s guidance in the form of the “Principles and Practice” paper for science includes – among the purposes of studying science – that children and young people should “demonstrate a secure knowledge and understanding of the big ideas and concepts of the sciences.”

So now we know. Creationism is not, as we weird sciency types had imagined, a purblind reality-denying misinterpretation of an Iron Age account of a Bronze Age myth. No. It is “complex, challenging, or controversial”. But don’t worry. It will be discussed in a variety of contexts, but so will evolution, and while evolution will always be there in the science class, creationism will only be there if the teacher feels like it. (For the Scottish Secular Society’s immediate reaction, see here)

TruthBeTold (2)

This “textbook” was handed out at Kirktonholme Primary by an academically unqualified chaplain who had been in post, and involved in curriculum development for eight years.

But what about those of us who are worried about what happened at Kirktonholme, where children in primary school paid for by our taxes were told that evolution is a lie, the Earth is 6000 years old, radiometric dating is a trick concocted to deny Biblical truth, and that dinosaur graveyards are evidence of Noah’s Flood?

No need to worry. To quote again from the document,

No concerns have been expressed to Education Scotland staff, either from the RME or Science teams, on any of these occasions [consultative meetings] about the teaching of Creationism in Scottish schools. Also, no school or teacher has sought guidance on this matter from Education Scotland.

That settles it. Education Scotland never learnt that anything had gone wrong. Therefore nothing could possibly have gone wrong. Therefore Education Scotland does not need to examine its information-gathering procedures. The parents’ meeting at Kirktonholme, involving as it did the majority of school parents, and making headlines from the Daily Record to the Herald, was totally unnecessary, because nothing wrong had ever happened, because if it had, Education Scotland would have known about it. Silly us for ever thinking otherwise. For which reason Tim Simons is able to assure us that

I  can therefore confirm that there are no plans to issue guidance to schools or education authorities to prevent the presentation of Creationism, Intelligent Design or similar doctrines by teachers or school visitors. The evidence available suggests that guidance on these matters is unnecessary.

[Emphasis added] So now we know.

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on December 16, 2014, in Creationism, Education, Politics, Religion, Scotland and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. wow… thanks for posting… disturbing to say the least! I felt like I was reading about Texas.

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  2. A great selection of comments here. I could not justifiably add more. One of Paul`s finest pieces. So cutting.

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  3. Further to an email exchange with Paul after he emailed his new blog post above, I now see that he is interpreting the unchanged Scottish government guidance as saying that in the ‘right’ context it is OK to teach creationism as ‘valid’. That is not their intention I don’t think:
    “There is no intention, either stated or implied, for schools to limit classroom discussion and debate about complex, challenging or controversial topics such as those posed by Creationism. For example, within the context of the delivery of the “Experiences and Outcomes” in Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Religious and Moral Education it is likely that concepts of creationism and evolution, will be discussed in a variety of contexts. Moreover, Creationism is not identified as a scientific theory or a topic within Curriculum for Excellence. Evolution however is specifically covered in the “Experiences and Outcomes” for the sciences.”
    However, I agree that such things have happened in several Scottish schools. Thus the – rejected – petition requesting “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”.
    Thus by rejecting the petition the Scottish government has refused to move to bar the possibility that within Religious and Moral Education creationist idea COULD be presented as a viable alternative to mainstream ‘origins’ science. All they have conceded that this must not happen within the Science curriculum. If the subject of creationism is raised in a Science class, students should not be informed that creationism is viable or valid science theory. But if the topic comes up in Religious and Moral Education – well the teacher can decide what to tell the students. Which is a little concerning.

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  4. It’s great to read about Scotland being so comfortable about Creationism within their education system. It means their stance on science and education is a laughing stock to the rest of us in Europe. That’ll weaken inward investment in science and technology (just as well with a such a comfortable dubious stance) – so all’s OK. A scientist from Ireland who’ll be telling many people about this!

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  5. So they’re saying no guidance is necessary because they haven’t received sufficient queries about it? Surely there must be a metric ton of guidance on topics that have never been queried before, either. Guidance notes exist on everything where you have a curriculum to follow – that’s what a curriculum is. So it seems almost as if they’re making creationism an exception but dressing it up in language that suggests it’s being treated as “default”.

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  6. Sounds like they are pussyfooting around. Trying to avoid the outraged feedback from theists/creationists if too strong a statement is made. But who knows. This kind of shillyshallying can only result in further battles down the line.

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  7. As a Scot, albeit an expatriate one, I find this very embarrassing. When I was a kid the Scottish education system was regarded as among the best in the world. How low it has sunk.

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  8. Reblogged this on Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin and commented:
    Scots get it wrong on creationism

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