The fight against creationism never ends, and won’t until faith is no longer with us. But one would at least expect it to wane in the UK, where religious belief is less pervasive. Still, there are those odious “faith schools” approved and funded by the British government, and there, it has been reported, creationism still has a redoubt.
As HuffPo and the British Humanist Association report, a secondary school for Jewish girls in Hackney, a part of London, have blacked out questions about evolution on the important “OCR” exam because such questions supposedly violate the students’ faith.
A Jewish secondary school has been criticised for hiding questions in an exam paper because they were at odds with its beliefs.
The OCR exam board, which investigated claims that pupils at the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School in north London were being prevented from answering certain questions in their obscuring questions in a GCSE science paper, said the action was “not good exam practice”.
But it added that its inquiry concluded that no student gained an advantage by the school’s actions, and it did not penalise any candidate.
It is understood that following the investigation, OCR, other exam bodies, the Department for Education and the schools inspectorate are looking to see whether there should be clearer guidelines for faith schools on how to deal with a situation where they are faced with questions in exam papers that are at odds with their belief system.
The matter was referred to the exam board – one of the biggest in England – by the National Secular Society (NSS) earlier this month.
The NSS raised concerns that teachers at the school had been “blacking out aspects of question papers” and asked for an investigation.
It is thought that the obscured questions may have related to an issue at odds with the school’s religious beliefs.
Yesodey Hatorah school, which is rated outstanding by Ofsted, serves the Orthodox Jewish Charedi community in Stamford Hill, north London. Members of the community do not have access to television or other media, such as the internet, and aim to live modest lives governed by the Torah.
Most Orthodox Jews reject evolution. At TAM this year, I met two ex-Orthodox Jews who had been brought up to reject evolution and, in both cases, studied the subject to be able to attack it more effectively. And in both cases they became convinced of evolution’s truth, which undermined their faith, and then left the religion. Both young men were obviously deeply pained at their decision, since it cut them off completely from their peers and family.
Curiously, the HuffPo article doesn’t mention that this brand of evolution-censorship is also on tap at a Muslim school in England. The BHA mentions it, though:
Meanwhile, Al-Madinah School, a Muslim school in Derby, has advertised to parents in its prospectus that ‘Sensitive, inaccurate and potentially blasphemous material will be censored or removed completely. If and when teachers are required by the curriculum to convey teachings that are totally against Islam (Darwinism, for example), the Director of Islamic Studies will brief the relevant teachers and advise accordingly.’ The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed alarm at the findings.
Al-Madinah has been subject to previous controversy for actions that seem clearly illegal, even under British law:
Meanwhile Al-Madinah School, a Free School that opened last year, has recently come under scrutiny for a large range of issues including that girls have been required to sit at the back of classrooms, female members of staff have been forced to wear a hijab (whether Muslim or not), and because the school denotes a huge amount of time each week to religious observance. As a consequence the Government has recently written to the school asking it to change its behaviour in 17 different places, or face closure.
My understanding is that “faith schools” are supported by the British government. Does that government really want to be in the business of censoring what students learn about science? That would clearly be illegal in the U.S. (as would the whole concept of faith schools), and scientists should be up in arms about this. I would expect, for instance, that the Royal Society would issue a strong statement denouncing the censorship of evolution.
Well, this censorship of evolution is business as usual in my country. A reader called my attention to a public school in Indiana where creationism is being taught in high-school biology classes. (This, of course, goes on in many places, but there’s no easy way to find out where.) Have a look, in the letter below, at how one teacher not only has her students read ID materials and watch “Expelled,” but passes out handouts blaming evolution for “Communism, Nazism, and Eugenics.” And this is Indiana, not Mississippi!
That reader brought the matter to the attention to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which has contacted the superintendent of the school system harboring the creationist teachers. The FFRF has also contacted the ECHO Resource Library of the NewTech Network in Napa, California, where the teacher deposited some of her creationist teaching materials. They could, unwittingly, be downloaded and used by other teachers.
Here’s the FFRF’s letter to the Superintendent of the Adams Central Community Schools in Indiana: