Schools in England and Wales aren’t permitted to teach creationism, but for reasons that I can’t fathom, the Scots refuse to join them. This came to light when, as reported by Scotland’s Sunday Herald, the Scottish Secular Society (SSS) discovered that a group of American creationists “had been working as classroom assistants at a primary school in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire.” (Note: it’s not clear whether this group actually taught creationism as science.)
The SSS petitioned the Scottish Parliament requesting explicit guidance on this issue (i.e., banning creationism the same way it’s done in the rest of the UK), but were turned back with this disappointing statement by a government official:
Tim Simons, Head of Curriculum Unit at the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate, has written to the parliament’s petitions committee that there are no plans to introduce ban guidance called for by the SSS.
Mr Simmons [sic] said: “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.
“However, Education Scotland will continue to monitor, through the school inspection process and by other means, any instances where schools are not ensuring the teaching of science is based on well-established science and scientific principles.”
This makes little sense. If they’re going to “monitor schools” to ensure the teaching of “well-established science,” wouldn’t it be useful to have some standards about exactly what is considered well-established science? In fact, the “safeguards” that Simmons mentioned in his response are wholly inadequate:
“Safeguards include; school managers having oversight of curriculum planning and resources; local authorities with robust complaints procedures, independent school inspections and the development of curriculum materials through a collegiate approach that provides for early identification of any inappropriate material.”
These are useless if school officials or teachers either don’t care whether creationism is taught or actually favor its teaching. SSS chairman Spencer Fildes gave the appropriate response:
The government’s submission is not only disappointing but at the same time short sighted and evasive, and fails to recognise the issue.
“It would seem they are willing to openly endorse the teaching and discussion of creationism in what they call ‘context’ but are unwilling to explicitly state it is forbidden even in the science class.
Frankly, I’m baffled at the Scottish government’s response, or lack of response about this issue. Naturally, it brought great joy to American creationists. Over at Answers in Genesis, for instance, evangelist Ken Ham called it “good news” and “a victory for academic freedom” in Scotland. I wonder if he’d say the same thing if “academic freedom” meant teaching astrology or Holocaust denial to schoolchildren.
If you’re a Scot and want to protest this annoyance, or are simply someone who favors good science education for all kids, you can write to to Fiona Robertson, the director of Scotland’s Learning Directorate, at Fiona.Robertson@scotland.gsi.gov.uk. [UPDATE: Paul Braterman in comment #5 gives a better address to write to. Please drop a line or two to that address if you want to help.]
I’ve sent a brief email (below) expressing my concern. I would hope that if Ms. Robertson got, say, 300 emails on this issue, she might contemplate rectifying this problem. Even a short email would be useful, so do write her if you feel so moved.
Dear Ms. Robertson,As an American professor who teaches evolutionary biology, I was deeply disappointed to read in The Herald of Scotland that your country’s education directors refuse to ban the teaching of creationism to schoolchildren. (See the article at http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/schools-creationism-ban-rejected-by-scottish-government.114739893).As the author of a popular book on the evidence for evolution (Why Evolution is True), I am fully aware of the massive evidence for evolution and the complete absence of evidence for any creationist views, which invariably stem from Biblical literalism. Creationism is thus a purely nonscientific view based on religion, and I’m saddened that Scotland won’t take even a minimal stand to ensure that its children are not indoctrinated with such bogus “science”. The truth of evolution, I’ve found, is not only fascinating, based as it is on mountains of diverse but congruent evidence, but also deeply enlightening, showing us how our own species, and other species as well, came to be. It is the true story of our origins.I hope that Scotland, like England and Wales, will have the resolve to explicitly establish some guidelines about what Tim Simmons, head of the Curriculum Unit, called “well-established science.” Without an explicit statement that creationism is not well-established science, schools are at the mercy of whatever their teachers want to impart about the origins and diversity of organisms.Thank you for your consideration.Cordially,Jerry CoyneProfessorDepartment of Ecology and EvolutionThe University of ChicagoChicago, IL 60637 USA