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Proletarian issue 30 (June 2009)
Education update: Creationism on the rise

Creationism on the rise

Hampshire County Council has decreed that the study of creationism should be freed from its traditional home in religious education and allowed to creep into the study of science. This seems odd, given that science is concerned with the body of facts and hypotheses gained through observation and experimentation. Indeed, the belief that humanity, life, the earth and the universe were created in their original form by a deity is widely regarded as being unscientific.

Nonetheless, the good people of Hampshire County Council believe that the interests of “reasoned enquiry and open discussion about creationism and evolution” will be best served by creationism being taught alongside evolution in science lessons. (‘Schools get advice on creationism’, BBC News Online, 10 March 2009)

Of course, every thinking person supports the idea of “reasoned enquiry”, and only the most vile antidemocrat would question the importance of “open discussion”, but this presentation of the issue is disingenuous. No reasoned scientific enquiry into the origin of the universe talks about creationism. Of course, creationism is in itself an interesting subject and is worthy of study (and indeed “open discussion”), but the point is that it should not be taught as a science and should not be presented as a valid alternative to evolution, which is a respected scientific theory with an enormous body of evidence to support it.

There has been a resurgence in classroom creationism on both sides of the Atlantic over the last few years. In late March, the Texas Board of Education narrowly rejected (by eight votes to seven) a section of a new education bill requiring high school students to study the “sufficiency or insufficiency” of the principles of evolution.

Texas school board chairman Don McLeroy “believes that God created the earth less than 10,000 years ago” and was very much looking forward to insisting “that high-school biology textbooks point out specific aspects of the fossil record that, in his view, undermine the theory that all life on Earth is descended from primitive scraps of genetic material that first emerged in the primordial muck about 3.9 billion years ago”. (‘Texas school board set to vote on challenge to evolution’, Wall Street Journal, 23 March 2009)

Jerry Coyne, author of the book Why Evolution is True parodied the situation brilliantly in the Guardian.

“Imagine that your state legislature has decided to revamp the way that health and medicine are taught in public schools. To do this, they must tackle the ‘germ theory of disease’, the idea that infectious disease is caused by microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria. The legislature, noting that this idea has many vocal opponents, declares that it is ‘only a theory’. Many people, for instance, think that Aids has nothing to do with viruses, but is the byproduct of a dissipated life. Christian Scientists believe that disease results from sin and ignorance, spiritual healers implicate disturbed auras and shamans cite demonic possession.

“In light of this ‘controversy’, the legislature sets up a school board that includes not only doctors, but also shamans, faith healers and, for good measure a few ‘psychic surgeons’ who pretend to extract veal cutlets from patients’ intact bodies. Taking account of these diverse views, the board recommends that from now on all teaching of modern medicine must be accompanied by a discussion of its weaknesses, including the ‘evidence’ that Aids results from drug use and malnutrition, as well as from impure thoughts and evil spirits. And our failure to understand the complexities of chronic fatigue syndrome might be seen as reflecting its causation by an inscrutable and supernatural designer.”
(26 March 2009)

Islamic thought less acceptable to the state

Although the authorities are increasingly keen on Christian fundamentalism, it would seem they are less enthusiastic with regard to Islamic thought. Aidan Jones wrote recently that “180 schoolchildren across Britain have been identified as potential Islamic extremists by a police-run early intervention programme which aims to coax youngsters away from radical influences”. (The Guardian, 28 March 2009)

According to the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), the Channel scheme, whereby parents, teachers and youth workers are trained to recognise the warning signs of kids falling under the influence of ‘extremists’, “creates a way for the police, local authorities and community to work together to identify those at risk and then refer them to the relevant agency for help”. The programme has been piloted in 10 areas of Britain over the last two years and will be trialled in a further nine areas this year. Welcome to democracy.

So why the double standard? Why is christian extremism to be encouraged and muslim extremism to be stamped out? The answer, of course, comes down to the economic and political interests of the ruling class.

Christian extremism does not represent a threat to the imperialist bourgeoisie at this point in time; on the contrary, a reversion to unscientific, primitive beliefs is very useful at a time when the prevailing economic and political order is so manifestly at odds with the needs of the masses and the advancement of technology as a means of meeting those needs.

No doubt the same people that support the teaching of creationist ‘science’ will be joining the campaign spearheaded by Paul McCartney and David Lynch for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s transcendental meditation programme to be rolled out to schools across Britain in order to improve pupils’ behaviour!

Islam, on the other hand, represents a very real danger to the imperialist bourgeoisie at this particular historical juncture, when muslims are very well represented at the forefront of the struggle against imperialism in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, Somalia and elsewhere.

Furthermore, it doesn’t take a particularly active imagination to conjecture that tactics such as the Channel scheme will be used against communists in the future (it’s a sad fact that, for the moment, there are a lot more muslims than communists in Britain, and therefore the state forces are less worried about us in the short term).

Reinstate Chris Knight

Here’s another fine example of the British state’s democratic principles: Chris Knight, a professor of anthropology at the University of East London, was suspended by UEL on 27 March 2009, apparently in light of comments made on BBC Radio 4 regarding plans for the protests around the G20 Summit. Here’s what he said:

“We are going to be hanging a lot of people like Fred the Shred [Frederick Goodwin, former Chief Executive of RBS] from lampposts on April Fool’s Day and I can only say let’s hope they are just effigies. To be honest, if he winds us up any more I’m afraid there will be real bankers hanging from lampposts and let’s hope that that doesn’t actually have to happen.

“They should realise the amount of fury and hatred there is for them and act quickly, because quite honestly if it isn’t humour it is going to be anger. I am trying to keep it humorous and let the anger come up in a creative and hopefully productive and peaceful way.” (Cited in Daily Telegraph, 27 March 2009)

UEL, busily courting the business sector in order to bolster its coffers, clearly cannot accept such talk from its staff members. From the UEL website: “At UEL we take our collaboration with business very seriously. We are committed to do [sic] all we can to ensure that our expertise is made available to benefit business and society. Utilising the wealth of expertise, research capabilities and facilities at UEL, our solutions help companies to become more profitable, more competitive and more sustainable.” (Cited in openanthropology.wordpress.com)

A campaign has been set up calling for the reinstatement of Chris Knight.

NUT conference: Sats boycott and pay demands

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has, at its recent conference, voted to boycott next year’s Sats (Standard Assessment Tests), defying government warnings that to do so would be unlawful. The NUT president, Martin Reed, told the conference: “The government will have to understand one obvious fact: because of our boycott carried out with the NAHT [National Association of Head Teachers] there will be no national curriculum testing forced on our schools; not in 2010 nor in any year after that.” (Quoted in ‘Teachers’ union votes to boycott Sats’, The Guardian, 11 April 2009)

According to Mick Brookes, the NAHT general secretary, “Testing narrows the curriculum and makes learning shallow, because the tests are simply regurgitative. Then the results are published in league tables, and schools in the toughest areas, where you’ve got hardest to teach children, are ridiculed on an annual basis. There is high stress for children; some will already be spending up to 10 hours a week rehearsing these tests. It’s a complete waste of time. It is unconscionable that we should simply stand by and allow the educational experience of children to be blighted.” (‘Education unions plan 2010 Sats boycott’, The Guardian, 26 March 2009)

Delegates at the NUT conference backed a motion instructing their union to seek an increase of £3,000 or 10 percent, whichever is greater. This follows several years of cuts in real wages, and comes at a time when low salaries, long hours and tough conditions are forcing many people out of the teaching profession.

Literacy/numeracy strategies not working

A report by the Policy Exchange think tank found that the various expensive and high-profile strategies introduced by the government from 1998 onwards to improve numeracy and literacy have been hopelessly ineffective.

Anna Fazackerley, head of Policy Exchange’s education unit, said: “A decade after the national strategies came into effect, only 56 percent of the boys and 66 percent of the girls who left primary school in 2008 could read, write and count to the minimum standard. Even with lower pass marks, easier tests, widespread ‘teaching to the test’ and millions of pounds spent on consultants and advisers, our literacy and numeracy standards are woefully behind that of other countries.”

Given that Policy Exchange is fairly closely linked with the Conservative Party, we shouldn’t accept its words uncritically; however, it is abundantly clear that, despite the various well-publicised snake-oil solutions the government has forced on schools, and despite the government’s obsession with decontextualised, ‘skills-based’ learning, a significant proportion of children are not developing the ability to read and write to an acceptable standard.

The principal social function of the lower end of the state education sector nowadays is not to nurture understanding or to develop questioning minds with a passion for knowledge, but to teach children to ‘do what they’re told’. ‘Character education’, long popular in the US as a means of indoctrinating kids with all-important conservative values such as obedience and patriotism, is on the rise.

Meanwhile, the Times of 13 April reported that some secondary schools have resorted to hiring bouncers as supply teachers – they are cheaper and often more effective in commanding obedience than trained teachers (ability to teach is apparently unimportant).

Pupils, teachers and parents must demand better. As a first step, we might suggest that pupils and teachers start anti-war groups at their schools – this will provide a context where children can learn more about politics, economics, history, geography, physics (eg, how do bombs work?), biology (eg, what is the biological action of depleted uranium?), sociology and many other subjects.

What’s more, it will give children valuable experience in organising themselves, working as a team, making decisions, developing a values system, relating academic issues to real life, and learning to hate the ruling class and organise for socialism!

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