I was spurred to write this by a comment Grant made on my previous post on the various NZ political parties’ stances on science education. In that post I linked to the website of a ‘special character’ school: one with a religious underpinning & which states that they replace ‘evolution’ with ‘creation’ in the school’s science curriculum:
All strands are covered as stated in the National Curriculum: The Living World, the Physical World, the Material World and Planet Earth and Beyond. As a Christian school we change the sub-strand called ‘Evolution’ to ‘Creation’. This links with our extra subject Creation Studies.
Which leads me to wonder exactly what such schools do teach in science classes…
Possibly a rather incoherent Living World curriculum, especially given that the National Curriculum document has this to say about the Living World strand (my emphasis):
The Living World strand is about living things and how they interact with each other and the environment. Students develop an understanding of the diversity of life and life processes, of where and how life has evolved, of evolution as the link between life processes and ecology, and of the impact of humans on all forms of life. As a result, they are able to make more informed decisions about significant biological issues.
It’s hard to make sense of many biological processes when the underlying organising principle is removed from discussion…
Since the curriculum mentions a ‘Biblical world view’ then I’ll assume that it teaches the ‘Young Earth’ variety of creationism (I am happy to be corrected on this), including such supposed events as a global flood. But then, the Living World strand, for young primary school children, offers the following learning objective:
• Recognise that there are lots of different living things in the world and that they can be grouped in different ways.
• Explain how we know that some living things from the past are now extinct.
First up there, we have the issue of species diversity: where did all those species come from? Even young children know that there are an awful lot of living things. Was every single one of them specially created? And what about the idea of extinction? I’m thinking particularly of the dinosaurs, so beloved of young children – perhaps because they are (many of them, anyway) big and fierce, & (all of them, ignoring for the moment that birds are essentially small feathered reptiles!) extinct. I have seen it argued that dinosaurs are still alive to day (yes, really
!), but doesn’t this generate new questions? How did they all survive the supposed flood, for example?
And that in turn generates another question: how, using a curriculum that posits a geologically young Earth, can you teach children the critical thinking skills they need? After all, even for young primary-age children the National Curriculum "Nature of Science" strand requires (my emphasis again) that they
[l]earn about science as a knowledge system: the features of scientific knowledge and the processes by which it is developed; and learn about the ways in which the work of scientists interacts with society.
And careful, critical thought lies at the heart of scientific knowledge.
But it’s not really just the Living World & the ‘E’ word, is it? Because in order to deny evolution, you must also deny quite a lot of geology (Planet Earth & Beyond) & physics (Physical World) as well. James Hutton & Charles Lyell, for example, used the (glacial) speed and relative constancy of observable geological processes to infer that the Earth is very old, & this is borne out by the physics of radioactive decay that underlies radiometric dating techniques. (In an example of special pleading it’s been argued that rates of radioactive decay were faster in the past
, thus giving the appearance
of a young Earth, but alas! were that really so, then the Earth would also be a ball of molten rock
, due to the large amount of heat released by the accelerated rates of decay…)
Yes, OK, I’ve jumped to the senior years at school here (you’re not going to learn about radiometric dating at primary school!), but my point remains: how can such a curriculum truly help children to understand and make sense of all that the world offers? (Let alone prepare those who go on to study biology – and geology – in a university system where evolution lies at the heart of our understanding of the living world.)