Thursday, 19 March 2009

Hampshire = Kansas? Not yet.

Being a Hampshire lad by birth, I was somewhat perturbed by the news that Hampshire schools are getting "advice" on creationism. Now, don't get me wrong, there's nothing inherently wrong with that fact - but it's the kind of phrase that sets off alarm bells.

The worry is that it's a "foot in the door" scenario which could lead to creationism* being taught in the classroom alongside science, and being given equal credence. Of course, this need not necessarily be the case here: at the moment the language being used to refer to this move is stressing advice rather than curriculum.

It is important that teachers know how to respond to inquiries from students about the relationship between creationism and evolution, and therefore an "advice package" seems like a jolly good idea. Exactly how good an idea it is, though, depends solely on the content of the report. I have written to Hampshire County Council asking them for a copy of the report, after having no luck searching online (there seems to be a direct link on the RichardDawkins.net forum, but at the time of writing this there's a quite serious problem with the website).

So until I find out what is actually advised, I'd like to take a moment to think about what I'd like it to say. Ideally, as far as the science classroom is concerned, I think the advice should be simply about how to deal with pupils' questions, and not how to raise the subject itself outside of that context. Creationism has no place in the science class. But that does not mean that pupils' questions on the subject should be ignored or simply rebuffed. It is important that they are informed about why creationism is not science, and why it is not appropriate to discuss metaphysics in the science classroom. Also, I have no problem with creationism - and its relationship with science - being discussed in religious education classes; that's where it belongs.

What I am afraid of is that this is not the tone that has been taken by the report; that, instead, it advises that it is entirely appropriate and even necessary to discuss creationism as a rival theory to evolution and the big bang. This is the area in which the creationists have been gaining most ground: in simply muddying the waters. The real problem will be that introducing guidelines for talking about religion in the science classroom will confuse rather than inform.

I'm all for getting pupils to discuss these issues, but everything that is done in the context of a science lesson should be science. Metaphysics should be checked at the door; it has no place in that setting.

* I use the word creationism as synonymous with so-called "intelligent design theory" because I hope that by this point nobody has any illusions. They are one and the same.

1 comment:

Vincent said...

I do agree with you here.