Children are tuning out of science as they progress through school, causing industry leaders to worry about where their skilled workers are going to come from. One possible reason was highlighted by a leading British science educator addressing a science festival audience this week. Professor Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, said excluding creationism and intelligent design from science lessons was counterproductive when one in 10 children comes from a family with creationist beliefs. “My experience after having tried to teach biology for 20 years is, if one simply gives the impression that such children are wrong, then they are not likely to learn much about science,” he said. “I think a better way forward is to say to them ‘look, I simply want to present you with the scientific understanding of the history of the universe and how animals and plants and other organisms evolved.”
Reiss, who is an ordained Church of England minister, said he used to be an “evangelist” for evolution in the classroom, but that approach had backfired. “I realised that simply banging on about evolution and natural selection didn’t lead some pupils to change their minds at all.” He believes now that it would be better for teachers to treat creationism as an alternative “world view” — without devoting the same time to it as to evolution.
As expected, the reverend professor’s view has brought some scientists out in a rash of denunciations, but Prof John Bryant, professor emeritus of cell and molecular biology at the University of Exeter, agreed that alternative viewpoints should be discussed in science classes — if the class was mature enough and time permits. “However, I think we should not present creationism (or intelligent design) as having the same status as evolution.”
Reiss insists that just because creationism and ID are not scientific theories that is not a sufficient reason for omitting them from the classroom. “[T]here is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have — hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching — and doing one’s best to have a genuine discussion… I do believe in taking seriously and respectfully the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution while still introducing them to it.”
He also criticised Prof Richard Dawkins for calling it “child abuse” to “label” children with a religion at birth. “This is an inappropriate and insulting use of the phrase child abuse as anybody who has ever worked — as incidentally I have over many years with children who have been either sexually or physically abused — knows.” ~ Guardian (UK), Sep 11