Thursday, 14 February 2008

The UK Government's Response to the Faith Schools Petition- Creationism is OK?

15 comments
Just received this, as a signer of the petition, in my email inbox:

We received a petition asking:
"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Abolish all faith schools and prohibit the teaching of creationism and other religious mythology in all UK schools."
Details of Petition:
"Faith schools remove the rights of children to choose their own religious, philosophical and ethical beliefs. They also sanction ethnic segregation and create tension and divisiveness within society. Schools should be places where children are given a free education, not centres for indoctrination. Creationism and other religious myths should not be taught as fact regardless of the funding status of a school. Abolishing faith schools will provide children with more freedom of choice and help to promote a fully multi-cultural, peaceful society."
The Government's response
The Government remains committed to a diverse range of schools for parents to choose from, including schools with a religious character or "faith schools" as they are commonly known.

Religious Education (RE) in all schools, including faith schools, is aimed at developing pupils' knowledge, understanding and awareness of the major religions represented in the country. It encourages respect for those holding different beliefs and helps promote pupils' moral, cultural and mental development. In partnership with national faith and belief organisations we have introduced a national framework for RE.

In February 2006, the faith communities affirmed their support for the framework in a joint statement making it clear that all children should be given the opportunity to receive inclusive religious education, and that they are committed to making sure the framework is used in the development of religious education in all their schools and colleges.

The Churches have a long history of providing education in this country and have confirmed their commitment to community cohesion. Faith schools have an excellent record in providing high-quality education and serving disadvantaged communities and are some of the most ethnically and socially diverse in the country. Many parents who are not members of a particular faith value the structured environment provided by schools with a religious character.
My analysis of the Government's Response

"The Government remains committed to a diverse range of schools for parents to choose from, including schools with a religious character or "faith schools" as they are commonly known."
Surely the government should be committed to providing the best possible education given the financial constraints, skills of teachers, potential abilities of pupils and so on. Of course parents want a choice of good schools but do they want a choice of diverse schools which range from good to bad?. Does the above commitment help or hinder this? Nothing is said here. Now studies, such as the recent LSE report, have shown that religious schools do not foster better education, instead relying on hidden selection. This was one of the underlying intents of this petition, specifically in mentioning Creationism as a bad exemplar of the potential dangers of such faith school education. This response is complete avoidance of the real issues as to why this petition was generated.
"Religious Education (RE) in all schools, including faith schools, is aimed at developing pupils' knowledge, understanding and awareness of the major religions represented in the country."
Thats is fine and even, contrary to popular misconceptions, Dawkins (and Dennet) agrees with this, as he confirmed in answering a question I put to him at the CFI London inauguration. No reasonable person would argue with this. This is not what the petition was about.
"It encourages respect for those holding different beliefs"
You might disagree with me on this but my view is that toleration I have no problem with, but I do with teaching pupils to respect views considered false. I wonder how then are pupils going to discriminate true from false beliefs, if they are taught instead that respect is more important than truth? This is education?
" and helps promote pupils' moral, cultural and mental development."
and how is this meant to occur? Just because religious groups claims a moral position does not mean tha this is true, however popular and accepted this might be. A contradiction to this claim is that empirical statistical studies have repeatedly shown the social ill health is positively correlated with religiosity. Again should the government rely on unsubstantiated claims or be really concerned with pupil's moral, cultural and mental development". Whilst one would hope the latter, it is clear that this not so with this government :-(
" In partnership with national faith and belief organisations we have introduced a national framework for RE."
And this is quite unlike the way other educational topics are developed. These organizations have a vested interest in it being presented in a certain fashion and apply a double standard, exclude certain belief organizations, or at least limit their influence, such as Humanism in the guise of the BHA. Why have both an internal and external double standard here? Why not instead develop a curriculum by consulting with academic experts in the fields or religion and related beliefs such as humanism as is done with every other topic?
"In February 2006, the faith communities affirmed their support for the framework in a joint statement making it clear that all children should be given the opportunity to receive inclusive religious education, and that they are committed to making sure the framework is used in the development of religious education in all their schools and colleges."
Woopee do! How nice :-) Do all political parties get together to endorse a Politics A-Level curriculum? What is the difference? There should be none! It makes sense for universities and employers to indicate what their requirements are that can help our population be educated and employable, but no-one else.
"The Churches have a long history of providing education in this country and have confirmed their commitment to community cohesion."
This the Argument from Tradition. Now if the UK is to remain leading country economically and academically, surely we need to apply the best of practice solutions that exist today? If this is contrary to tradition, and we prefer tradition over success, then tradition is costing us all dearly. It is nice that they are committed to social cohesion but there is a much simpler and fairer solution. Eliminate faith schools and no issues of commitment and problems in measuring performance would occur.
"Faith schools have an excellent record in providing high-quality education"
Now the Government is quite happy to perpetuate myths. For example, the LSE study is indicative that these claims are false. Where is their evidence or are they no better than religious groups in making un-substantiated claims. Is this the type of government we can rely on and trust?
" and serving disadvantaged communities and are some of the most ethnically and socially diverse in the country."
Maybe they do, maybe they do not. Where is the evidence? Again the aforementioned statistical studies, whilst remembering the correlation is not causation, are still some significant evidence against this.
" Many parents who are not members of a particular faith value the structured environment provided by schools with a religious character."
Really, how many? How many parents value the quality of pupil peers and related less stressful teaching environments that results from hidden selection. Look at the late baptism statistics and its recent upward trend.

What is worrying is what was not replied to in this response. The claim that "Creationism and other religious myths should not be taught as fact regardless of the funding status of a school." Silence. Nana. Nothing. Is this an implicit endorsement that it is fine to befuddle our pupils and teach these as fact?

It seems that this government thinking reflected in this petition response is as faith-based and non-fact based as is religion itself. If this itself is the previous result of "moral, cultural and mental development." we should all be very worried.

15 comments:

Jared White said...

So in spite of the fact that many respected scientists, historians, and Biblical scholars approve of a creationist explanation of origins, and in spite of the fact that some parents chose to send their children to schools that teach this interpretation, you wish the government to censor teaching simply on the grounds that evolutionists and atheists don't like it. Apparently the right of parents to educate their children as they see fit is less important than indoctrination into the evolutionary worldview which you support.

I'm an American, not a Britisher, so I don't know how the connection between school choice and government funding works, but as long as parents aren't obligated to send their children to any particular type of school, religious or not, it seems to be that the best thing to do is to allow schools to flourish and give parents the responsibility. It is hardly the government's job to decide what worldview, if any, is ultimately true or not.

martino said...

First of all Jared you are missing the point. This was specific petition with specific clams and I was analysing the governments response to it. It is generally worrying that the government feels fit to reply to a petition and make no statement about one of the key points in the petition, at the very least they should make a full reply stating its position. In this case in particular, that it was silent on one specific point, over teaching creationism in state schools.

The question of teaching creationism is not over censorship. Nothing prevents parents sending their children to Sunday school where they can learn this. It is not the role of state school to teach controversial positions, but provide the best education possible to equip our children to function as independent adults in the real world, including then being able to make up their own minds on controversies. On this basis creationism does not warrant being on any syllabus except religious education within which I have no problem it being taught, along with other creation myths, of course.

Jared White said...

Again, I apologize if I am mistaken in my assessment due to my poor knowledge of the UK school system, but the original petition you quoted sounded like it was pushing for the abolishment of all faith schools in the UK regardless of funding status. Are you saying that as long as taxpayer-funded government support of faith schools isn't in play, the right of such schools to provide education to those who wish it is not in question?

martino said...

There were two petitions on this topic and this was the stronger one and not the one that I helped initiate.

Yes I am against any form of government funding for faith schools in the state system. As for public schools (what you call private schools) anyone can create any school, providing it fulfills a state set of educational requirements. This would exclude teaching creationism in a biology class, but allow it within a religion class. Whatever specific extra-curricular religious instruction such as school might provide it should also teach comparative religion/religious education which would cover the facts of all significant religions not just the preferred one the public faith school.

Jared White said...

All right, I understand what you're saying now, but that brings me back to my original point, which is that parents should be able to choose to send their children to a school that provides the eduction they want them to receive. In terms of public schools specifically (private in the U.S.), I think it's censorship to say that the government can dictate what particular position on controversial scientific topics can be taught. Obviously students should be exposed to evidence and subsequent interpretations from mainstream points of view, but to require only one particular stance is not a reasonable position but one borne out of dogmatism. I would think that as someone who prides himself on his free thinking, you would be supportive of schools that encourage students to question the status quo.

martino said...

I have already said that creationism can be taught in religious education and clearly not biology - where it obviously has no place - so what are you complaining about?

Jared White said...

Creationism is the scientific exploration of the geological origin of the earth and the biological origin of lifeforms from a catastrophic, special creation perspective rather than a uniformitarian, gradualistic perspective. It is not a religious claim, but a scientific claim. Creationism is not theology.

martino said...

You live in the USa and you should well know that creationism is regarded there, as elsewhere, as a religious and not scientific idea.

In school we should teach the best of breed thinking in the sciences and noting else. Creationism is not remotely in the running, as a science it was failed project nearly 150 years ago. We do not teach phlogiston in chemistry, phrenology in psychology nor should we teach creationism in biology.

As an adult you are free to pursue whatever you want to.

Jared White said...

The amount of innovative research in creationist circles over the past few decades blows away any knowledge we had 150 years ago prior to Darwin. This isn't some ragtag bunch of neanderthal hicks that think bananas are proof for God because they fit in your hand. I think you've mixed up some dopey televangelists with real scientists who have published numerous non-creationist papers in peer-reviewed journals. (Anything that smacks of creationism or intelligent design gets censored right off the bat, but creationists and IDers have published many other notable research.)

Anyway, creationism is most definitely in the running, though perhaps not so much in the hallowed halls and ivory towers of traditional academia.

martino said...

Even if it were in the running, which I severely doubt, it is still not the type of topic suitable for school education. University maybe but not school and the same would go for any other proto-scientific endeavour. One should not confuse pupils by teaching controversial topics at school instead give them the core skills so they can evaluate it themselves as adults.

Anyway I have followed the biological literature for years and I have seen nothing yet of remotely any useful scientific value coming out of creationism/ID. Science is about reading the book of nature not the book of moses. You can get inspiration from anywhere but if cannot be shown to be in the book of nature it is not science.

alex said...

(but creationists and IDers have published many other notable research.)

Name one! And if it involves Michael Behe I strongly suggest you look at the counter arguments before putting his tiny motors theory up as a candidate.

The fact remains education shouldn't be a matter of choice, any choice. What is the value of this parental choice if taken to such extremes, where choosing to teach falsehoods is the outcome?

Would you support choice Jared, if it meant gay parents choosing to send their children to a gay school that only studied gay literature, listened to disco music, and looked at history's gay figures? I'm guessing you wouldn't be keen!

All educational subjects have to pass muster on the level of academic rigour. Saying "the bible says..." as a justification for teaching a lot of secondhand mythology (that was never intended to be an academic text recall) is just self-indulgence religious behaviour.

The fact is the very science that's probably kicking electricity into the back of your PC comes from a nuclear powerstation whose very existence depends on the truth of carbon ageing, which in turn proves the age of the earth. You are wrong to teach fairy tales as facts for this and other reasons.

Jared White said...

Alex, almost everything in your post is a straw man. If teaching creationism or something else such as ID as a possible origins theory comprised of such flim-flam nonsense as you seem to indicate, I'd be totally against it as well. However, it doesn't. Apparently you're attacking a media-induced caricature of a movement that except for a few fundamentalist religious enclaves doesn't really exist. So go ahead and attack it. Nobody really gives a darn.

Meanwhile, real scientific inquiry will encourage free thought, skepticism of current paradigms, and research into alternative and perhaps superior explanations. I welcome such academic rigour most emphatically.

martino said...

Jared and Alex

I fail to see why what Alex said is a strawman. Where is the evidence you claim to have seen? It is only arguments of the flim-flam type, to which Alex pointed, that I have come across, most recently commenting in Ben Stein's 'Expelled'

And my main point still stands, that even if there were some evidence to make ID a proto-science that that is insufficient and premature to have it taught in schools. "Teach the controversy" is a very poor justification and do you not think it immoral to teach as fact what is most likely fiction to pupils?

Jared White said...

"Teach the controversy" is completely appropriate because it is an historical fact that Darwinian evolution has never achieved the degree of cohesive, explanatory power and evidence-based confirmation that any other time-tested scientific theory has, and the number of respected scientists severely questioning many of its core tenants is large and growing by the day.

If there is such a solid and convincing body of knowledge in evolutionary theory, then can't be much of a threat from a small number of loons. You should welcome the conversation and public discourse!

martino said...

Hi Jared

"Teach the controversy" is completely appropriate because it is an historical fact that Darwinian evolution has never achieved the degree of cohesive, explanatory power and evidence-based confirmation that any other time-tested scientific theory has, and the number of respected scientists severely questioning many of its core tenants is large and growing by the day.
This is false in so many ways
1. ID/Creationism can be taught in religion classes
2. Historical controversies can studied in history clasees
3. Current controveries can be taught in contemporary affairs/politics classes
4. ID is a psuedo-controversy as far as science is concerned,and depending on the curriculum is already covered in showing how natural selection was a better theory than saltationism and other religiously derived discredited theories.
5. Anyway evolutionary biology is one of the most robust and tested theories ever, showing a higher degree of cohesive, explanatory power and evidence-based confirmation that many other time-tested scientific theories of the same calibre.

If there is such a solid and convincing body of knowledge in evolutionary theory, then can't be much of a threat from a small number of loons. You should welcome the conversation and public discourse!
Public discourse yes, using politics to corrupt science no and using politics to corrupt the minds of our future scientists no - that is immoral.