Categories
education

Creationist Idiocy in the UK

To “celebrate” the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, Theos (the religious think-tank) commissioned a survey into the public perceptions of Darwin’s theories. The results were published yesterday and do not make comforting reading.

It seems that about half of the UK don’t accept Darwin’s findings and only about a quarter of us say that evolution is definitely true. One in ten people believed in nonsense similar to that spouted by young Earth creationists.

Of course, science isn’t a democracy. Even if half of the population demand that creationism or “intelligent design” should be considered a science, that doesn’t suddenly make it a science. But the worrying thing here is the number or people who don’t seem to understand evolution or natural selection and who haven’t seen (or who have chosen to ignore) the overwhelming amount of evidence in favour of evolution.

And the blame for that has to be laid firmly at the feet of the people who bend over backwards to give religious beliefs a level of respect that they don’t deserve. For far too long, ridiculous religious beliefs have thrived in an environment where it is seen as rude to question them. It’s astonishing that children can emerge from the education system at sixteen without knowing about evolution and without being given the intellectual tools that they could use to see through the nonsense that their family and religious community are constantly telling them.

Picture it this way. Imagine how you would feel if there was a group who wanted schools to teach “alternative maths”. A group campaigning that pupils should be told that it was okay to believe that two plus two is five. It makes no sense at all, of course. And that’s about how sensible it is to allow children to believe that evolution isn’t true.

It’s a hundred and fifty years since Darwin published his ideas. And in that time pretty much every advance in biology has been predicted by evolution or has helped to prove and strengthen Darwin’s theory. No sane scientist doubts that Darwin’s theories were correct. And if scientists agree that the theory is correct then the fact that it contradicts some old legends really shouldn’t matter in the slightest.

These poll results should be a big red flag to the people running Britain’s schools. Twenty years ago it looked like creationism was effectively dead in the UK. Now it’s growing again, and if it isn’t quashed soon we’ll end up with cases like the US where religious nutters take schools to court for the right to infect children with their poison. Let’s hope it doesn’t reach that stage.

Categories
education religion

Faith Schools Petition

I mentioned this when I signed it a year ago, but I’ve just noticed that today is the closing date for the petition to abolish faith schools.

There are currently 19,063 on the petition. It would be great if it could get to 20,000 by the end of the day.

So if you’re the kind of sensible person who doesn’t believe that children should be taught fairy stories as fact and you haven’t already signed the petition, then please get over there and sign it today.

Categories
education

Literacy

The BBC has a worrying report on levels of literacy in the UK

Bedtime stories are proving a struggle for many parents who are not confident readers, says a survey from adult learning agency Learndirect.

More than 10% of the 1,000 parents asked had struggled to understand some words in the stories they had read to their five to 10-year-old children.

One in ten parents if having trouble reading stories aimed at five to ten-year-olds. Not reading a broadsheet newspaper or government forms (both of which would be worrying but not entirely surprising) but reading children’s stories.

The survey comes from Learn Direct who obviously have an agenda here as they sell adult literacy courses. But if you think about the people who you come into contact with in your day to day life then you’ll know that they’re really aren’t exaggerating the problem.

Depressingly they also say

Even more parents – a third – struggled with their children’s maths homework.

The last two paragraphs in the BBC report sum up the report’s findings and, handily, demonstrate the problem

The report said that five million adults lacked functional literacy and more than 17 million had difficulties with numbers.

More than one in six youngsters left school unable to read, write or add up properly, said the report.

It’s not exactly illiterate, but it could have been phrased a lot more elegantly.

Categories
education

The Wrecking of British Science

Excellent article in today’s Guardian by Nobel laureate Harry Kroto.

I was happy enough when he was making points like

Thirty per cent of physics departments have either been closed or merged in the past five years. What is one to make of the deafening silence of ministers when, last year, the small Sussex chemistry department – a fantastic department to work in, where I stayed for some 37 years and which has housed some 12 fellows of the Royal Society, three Nobel laureates and a Wolf prize winner since it was created in 1962 – was under threat of closure? It was only through the concerted efforts of staff and students that a U-turn occurred.

Or

Unfortunately, the numbers of young people opting for scientific training has dwindled frighteningly all over the developed world, not just in the UK. It is worth noting that, over decades, the US has been spectacularly successful in making up its homegrown science and technology shortfall by draining first western European scientists, and now eastern European and Asian scientists.

But then he reaches conclusions that had me jumping for joy

It is a scandal that the present system is enabling a car salesman to divert significant government funds to propagate dogma such as “intelligent design” in our schools. State funds are also being used to support some schools that abuse impressionable young people by brainwashing them into believing that non-believers will burn for all eternity in the fires of hell. This policy is a perfect recipe for the creation of the next generation of homegrown and state-educated suicide bombers.

And

It is truly disturbing that a well-funded cohort of religious groups – aided, abetted and condoned by the Labour government – is undermining our science education. If they achieve any more success in their subversion of the intrinsic secular safeguards embodied in our democratic institutions and our educational system, there can be no doubt there is major trouble ahead. So my final message is: “Do Panic!”

He sounds like an eminently sensible chap.

p.s. Meanwhile, in the US – Heliocentrism is an Atheist Doctrine.

Categories
education

We’re Doomed

Evidence mounts that the UK education system is giving up on teaching maths to any reasonable level.

Firstly, there’s this story from yesterday. Schools are measured on the results they get. And as maths is hard, some people don’t do very well in maths exams. The solution seems to be to discourage pupils from taking maths exams – as if they don’t take them, then they can’t do badly in them. Far better that they spend their time working on easier subjects that they’ll do better in, which will improve the school’s scores.

An alternative might be to improve the level of maths teaching, but that doesn’t seem to have been considered.

And then today there’s this story comparing maths problems set in entrance exams for students applying to take chemistry degrees at universities in England and China. The Chinese problem is something that would require me to spend some considerable time drawing diagrams and scratching my head. I solved the English problem in my head in seconds. And I’d expect most intelligent people to be able to do the same.

It looks like English schools are turning out mathematical morons. Where are all the decent maths teachers?

Categories
education

Readin’ and Writin’

The BBC has a report about a survey from LearnDirect which estimates that over 14.6 million people have lost their employers money due to a lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Almost two in five of the people surveyed said that they relied on someone else at work to check their calculations.

There was also a widespread dependence on computer spell-checkers, particularly among the young. The survey suggested that 67% of people relied on spell-checkers – with this rising to 75% among 16 to 30-year-olds.

Ewe no, Eye don’t really sea watt’s rung with vat. Eye wood of fort every buddy nose that a spill chequer is the best weigh to find you’re miss steaks.

Categories
education religion

Worthless Religions

Why do so many people get so irrational when discussing religion? I realise, of course, that religion itself is completely irrational, but there’s no excuse for not discussing it rationally.

There’s a story on the BBC News site today about an Islamic school in West London. People are complaining because it uses textbooks that are offensive to other religions.

Let’s look at a couple of the supposedly offensive passages:

give examples of worthless religions… such as Judaism, Christianity, idol worship and others

Nothing wrong with that is there? Well, they’ve missed Islam off the list. All religion is worthless.

But anyone objecting to it is misunderstanding the way that religion works. At most one religion can be true (sane people know it’s fewer than that). Believers in any given religion will, of course, fervantly want to believe that it’s their chosen fairy story that is correct. Therefore they must believe that all other religions are worthless.

Here’s another “objectionable” quotation:

explain that those who die without adhering to Islam will go to hellfire

Once more, that’s just an obvious consequence of picking one supernatural explanation of the universe over the others. If someone doesn’t believe in the “one true” fairy tale then they obviously won’t be entitled to the benefits of that belief. And for both muslims and christians one of the benefits of their beliefs is that they’ll be in heaven when they die. Non-believers will be suffering in hell.

The textbook is only saying what all muslims must believe. And it’s exactly the same as (although a mirror image of) what all christians must believe. Maybe in polite society they don’t go round telling people that they’re going to hell, but it’s what they believe.

Yes, I agree that children should be taught to treat everyone with respect. And yes, it would seem that these children aren’t being taught that. But this isn’t because they are at a muslim school. It’s because they are at a religious school.

Religions teach their followers that they are better than non-believers (or, at least, that they will have a more comfortable afterlife than non-believers). That is divisive and is yet another good reason why religion should be kept out of school.

Categories
education politics religion science

Science or Superstition?

Tony Blair apparently thinks that we should be encouraging more young people to become scientists. Well, maybe he should stop trying to send them to superstition schools.

Categories
education

Kids These Days

If we ever met, I’m sure that Boris Johnson and I would have plenty of ideological differences. But I have to admit that he’s never less than entertaining and his blog is well worth reading.

Today’s entry is a good example. He’s interviewing for a new researcher and can’t resist the urge to compare today’s graduates with his generation (which is also mine).

Their A-level results cascaded down the page like a suicidal scream. They were magazine editors, union presidents, champion mooters, and they had blues for everything from rugby to lacrosse. They had prestigious New York awards for their film-making; they had been semi-finalists in University Challenge 2004-05. They had already published important articles in the Guardian and served internships throughout the FTSE-100. They had fluent French and confident German and unblemished driving licences and they had managed to secure the top firsts in disciplines from English to Engineering to History while playing squash to county standard.

I’m not sure I fit in with one description of his generation:

When I talk about my generation I mean the bunch who graduated about 20 years ago, and what a sharp-elbowed, thrusting and basically repellent lot we were. We were always bragging or shafting each other, and in a way we still are, with our pompous memoirs and calculated indiscretions. When Toby Young began an article in Cherwell with the words, ‘I work harder and achieve more than anyone else I know’, we all chortled in approval of this ghastly ethic. But would any 20-year-old be quite so brazen today? On one side of the political divide we had Thatcherites, voluble or silent. When Gordon Gekko said ‘Greed is good’, we did not exactly cheer, but we smirked. When Tebbo said ‘On your bike’, we thought, yah, he had a bloody good point. When Ronald Reagan said the Soviet Union was an ‘Evil Empire’ we thought the language a bit strong but the analysis broadly sound; and though we were a bit sad for the miners, we thought they were cruelly abused and deluded by their leadership.

But then he goes on to say:

On the other side of the argument there was a symmetrical sense of engagement. Some of our girlfriends even went to Greenham Common or held hands outside South Africa House, and two decades later I know a prosperous barrister who still goes ‘oink, oink, oink’ and hisses ‘piggies’ whenever she sees the police. When poor Keith Joseph made his doomed attempt to reform university finance in 1984, he was so pelted with eggs that he backed off.

Which sounds far more like me.

I’m not sure that he’s really got a reasonable cross-section of all of today’s twentysomethings, but it’s an interesting (and amusing) read anyway.

Categories
education religion

Faith Schools

To celebrate easter, Comment is Free gives you both sides of the faith schools argument today.

So you get Polly Toynbee talking sense:

But how odd that in this heathen nation of empty pews, where churches’ bare, ruined choirs are converted into luxury loft living, a Labour government – yes, a Labour government – is deliberately creating a huge expansion of faith schools. There is all the difference in the world between teaching children about religion and handing them over to be taught by the religious. Just when faith turns hot and dangerous, threatening life and limb again, the government responds by encouraging more of it and more religious segregation. If ever there was a time to set out the unequivocal value of a secular state, it must be now.

And you also get Peter Franklin talking bollocks:

Finally, we come to the c-word: creationism. It seems that some faith schools teach it. When I was at school I was taught about socialism and fascism, and I don’t believe in either. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t object to teaching children that they randomly evolved from a pool of slime; it’s just that I don’t think we’ll ruin their education by telling them that there is an alternative view: which is that they’re the special creations of almighty God.

Pick a side people. Rationalism or nonsense?