Anyone who tells children that God – literally – created the world in seven days 6,000 years ago is guilty of perverting education.
The truth – and education should be above all else a search for truth – is that the world, and the flora and fauna in it, including homo sapiens, evolved over millions of years.
But of course, whatever the founders of the Exemplar Academy in Newark soon to open as a state-authorised school might think, the divisions between the two points of view are not quite as cut and dried as that.
There is, for example, more than one sort of truth. There is factual, scientific truth and there are deeper, metaphysical truths.
For example, I don’t for a moment believe that Adam and Eve were ever a physically living people and neither, for the record, do any of the committed Christians I know. But there is a great deal of ‘truth’ in their human fallibility and curiosity. In a sense the Adam and Eve story is a novel, and like all the best novels it is full of insights and truths.
Intelligent, responsible adults working with children teach them the science and then, if they wish, explain that the creation stories – and every religion has one – originated as man’s way of explaining truths he ( or she) didn’t fully understand. It actually makes quite an interesting education project to explore and compare those stories and see what a lot they have in common.
And as for God. Well, he was man’s name for the almost unimaginable force which drove (drives) the process of evolution and change – a personification. So, if you want a religious approach, the science and the creation myth complement each other.
You don’t have to argue the literal and pretty absurd case for an old man in the sky striding about making decisions for and about human beings.
Good educators – parents, teachers and others – ensure that children learn to think and reason for themselves. They don’t thrust propaganda and bigotry at them or withhold facts and information.
A friend of mine taught for a while in a tiny school run by Plymouth Brethren. She had to teach Shakespeare’s play Henry V so that the students could take GCSE English Literature. She was not allowed to mention sex in any context and the word ‘god’ had been blanked out of the text every time it appeared which wrought havoc with both sense and verse.
One student, a girl aged 15 (yes,15), was very puzzled about why the women were in danger at Harfleur. ‘I can see that the soldiers would want to kill the men’ she said. ‘But what on earth did they want with the women and girls?’ It seems little short of scandalous to me that anyone in 21st century Britain is raising children in such dangerous ignorance. Bigotry has a great deal to answer for.
I am not a religious believer or church goer. But I am a great admirer of much of what is in The Bible and other religious texts. They contain fine poetry, a great deal of human truth in many of the stories and an encapsulation of the cultures they sprang from and influenced – all of which I want children and young people to be led to think about. We can all learn a lot from them.
But we must never indoctrinate or permit our institutions to use indoctrination techniques. The Department for Education in England, as my colleague Richard Garner reported in the Independent last week is trying to make a slippery and unconvincing distinction between a school which has a ‘faith ethos’ and a ‘faith school’ .
Call it what you like but the school in question is founded by blinkered creationists who don’t see education as a free unending journey. Does anyone really believe that it will restrict itself to pedalling its distorted truths (lies?) in RE lessons?
Real Education is about open-ended questioning and challenging the mind. It also involves encouraging the learners eventually to move way beyond their teachers so that each generation explores new ground. Blinkered, limited, propagandist, religious thinking attempts to hold back or stop that process.
Brainwashing is a form of child abuse. It should have no place in any place of learning.