The importance of secular education
June 2, 2010 § 3 Comments
As a child I was often told I had a vivid imagination, one that was filled with wonder and fantasy, and I loved the stories my parents would read to me. But I learned at a very young age that monsters and leprechauns were not real. While my imagination was allowed to flourish, my inquisitive nature was such that if I wanted to know about something, I was always given the information I needed, and from a rational standpoint. My mother and father both studied scientific pursuits in university, one in health sciences and the other in freshwater biology. Neither of them were what I would call religious, even though they were both raised in Protestant families themselves. I grew up in a household where I was always taught be a critical thinker. I think it was this opportunity, as given to me by my parents and my surroundings, that allowed me to eventually arrive where I am now; a critical thinker who is active in the pursuit of reasonable and rational thought.
One of the main reasons I decided to get involved in the debate about religion was that I could see that there is a worrying trend in the world toward teaching topics based on the wants of certain special interest groups, and at the expense of the rational. Literal interpretations of religious texts seem to be creeping into the school curriculum, being driven by some very manipulative organisations who prey on the ill-informed or the easily led.
The best examples of this come from The Discovery Institute and The Answers In Genesis group, who through their ignorance and rejection of accepted scientific theories such as evolution due to their literal interpretations of the bible, seek to introduce the theory of Creationism into schools as an alternative study in the science classrooms. At Answers In Genesis they justify this standpoint on their website in a document from 1999 which is loaded with “facts and figures” makes the claims that the majority of Americans believe that life on earth was created by a God, and see creation as a viable alternative. Some in the USA are even teaching creationism INSTEAD of evolution in the science classes.
This debate has been raging in the USA for decades, where young-earth creationists have claimed that the earth itself has been in existence no longer than 10,000 years, and this being the only truth because the bible says so, must be taught in schools. In the 21st century and has now spread around the world to Europe and Australia under the guise of the insidious new title of “Intelligent Design” and is proclaimed by its proponents as a scientific theory in itself. And while this claim may be justified by saying that by ignoring a “scientific standpoint” the education system is a failure, this “scientific standpoint” is nothing but an exercise in cherry-picking ideas from science AND religion to come up with a Frankenstienesque monstrosity. It holds no water scientifically, and if taken seriously as a viable part of the Christian religious culture and not just a ploy to get religion back into the classroom, should be treated as non-scientific, but as a “cultural viewpoint”.
Recently, the Queensland Board of Education admitted it was including creationist ideas in schools as part of The National Curriculum, saying they are planning to introduce this as part of the history curriculum. I must say, while I find the idea of Intelligent Design as ludicrous, and the idea of young-earth-creationism as certifiably insane, I see no reason it should not be taught in schools as long as it is not taught as an alternative to science, or as an alternative history for the literalist religious few. Many say they should just ban this from the classroom, but I see it as a useful tool for critical thinking.
If Intelligent Design is to be taught in classes, it should be done thus; NOT alongside the Australian Aboriginal “Dreamtime” and other in a cultural mythology class, but in an “issues” class where real cultural and religious beliefs and crackpot ideas can be compared against each other, each on its own merit and used as tools for critical assessment of issues facing society.
If young-earth-creationism is to be taught in schools, it must be done in a comparative religion class, where all viewpoints of all religions are proposed side-by-side, with emphasis upon the fact that ALL religions claim to be the “one true” religion and that they can’t all possibly right.
Education must remain unbiased toward specific special interests. Secular education is the only way we can instill rational thought and reason as the two pillars by which future generations make decisions. These are only tools that we can use to help raise the next generation of free-thinking rational minds.