Green light for teaching creationism in public schools?

[Repost with minor modifications form]

image.jpg width="250"/>
As indicated in a press release by the National Center for Science Education, the National Council for the Social Studies has released a position statement on Intelligent Design.

...There have been efforts for many decades to introduce religious beliefs about the beginning of life on Earth into the science curriculum of the public schools. Most recently, these efforts have included "creation science" and "intelligent design." Following a number of court decisions finding the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in the public school science curriculum to be unconstitutional, there have been efforts to introduce these beliefs into the social studies curriculum....

The American Heritage Dictionary (2007) defines intelligent design as the "belief that physical and biological systems observed in the universe result from purposeful design by an intelligent being rather than from chance or undirected forces." Attempts to introduce this doctrine, originally termed "creationism," then "creation science," and most recently, intelligent design," into public school curricula have been found unconstitutional in state and federal courts....

These decisions have struck down state attempts to interfere with the teaching of evolution in the public school science curriculum....

Because federal courts, to date, have ruled against the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in the science curriculum, an approach called "critical analysis" has been introduced to get around these decisions. This approach seeks to incorporate what the courts have ruled to be religious belief into the public school curriculum by contending that public schools should take a critical view of the theory of evolution. In this critical view, particular attention is to be focused on any uncertainties in the fossil record as well as what are contended to be examples of "irreducible complexity." This view then introduces intelligent design as an explanation addressing these uncertainties.

This "critical analysis" approach to teaching intelligent design has attracted political support in several states and districts. It was a motivating force behind former Senator Rick Santorum's unsuccessful attempt to include a statement that evolution was a controversial scientific theory into the original No Child Left Behind legislation. It has also figured prominently in the much-publicized battle over the treatment of evolution in the Kansas science standards. In Ohio, the state board of education has suggested that although a critical analysis of the theory of evolution with the teaching of intelligent design should not be put into the science curriculum, "social studies appears to be a good fit" (Columbus Dispatch, September 2002).

Rationale for Recommendations

Social studies may, at first glance, seem to be a better fit for this approach to teaching intelligent design, but the same constitutional issues arise whether religious beliefs are taught in science or in the social studies curriculum. While the social studies classroom is the proper forum for the discussion of controversial issues, educators should be wary of being used to promote a religious belief in the public schools. This unintended outcome can be the result of teaching students that a scientific controversy exists between intelligent design and the theory of evolution when, in fact, no such controversy exists.

Teaching about religion in human society is an important component of many social studies courses (see the NCSS position statement "Study about Religions in the Social Studies Curriculum," revised and approved by the Board of Directors in 1998). However, teaching religious beliefs as the equivalent of scientific theory is not consistent with the social studies nor is it allowed under the First Amendment. Evolution is a scientific theory subject to testing by the scientific method. In contrast, religious teaching based on the existence of a supreme being does not allow for the scientific processes of hypothesizing, gathering evidence or questioning as they are based on faith, not scientific observations or experimentation.

Nonetheless, social studies may have to contend with these issues because of local or state mandates. The curricular recommendations that follow allow for substantive discussion of the issues surrounding intelligent design, while avoiding First Amendment problems. Most significantly, these recommendations prevent the social studies curriculum from being a repository for intelligent design instruction in the public schools, while still allowing students to analyze the political, legal, and historical issues involved.

Teaching Recommendations

Prior to teaching about intelligent design, social studies teachers should check their district?s policies related to teaching controversial issues and teaching about religion. There are a number of ways in which social studies teachers might introduce the issues surrounding intelligent design in their curriculum. The following recommendations examine the issues from a social studies, rather than a religious, perspective.

* Constitutional perspective: ...

* Historical perspective: ...

* Sociological perspective: ...

* Anthropological perspective: ...

* Public issues perspectives: ...


© Copyright 2007 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.

This is a partial reproduction of the original statement. If you are a teacher or school administrator, you obviously will want to read the entire document, here.

I disagree with their recommendations, or at least, think something should be added. It is part of the strategy of many pro-creationism groups to bring in creationism as a sort of "innocent bystander" in a broader discussion, but once it is in the classroom, it is easy for a teacher who wants to teach creationism to do so. The teacher can keep the actionable information ... handouts, words written on the boards, other teaching material ... within "legal limits" but allow or even encourage the conversation to go places it should not go. Given the fact that a significant percentage of teachers in public schools are, in fact, creationists, I think this is a dangerous and potentially ineffective policy.

No, it is not true that the NCSS has given the green light to creationism in schools. But Creationism is a Boston Driver on Mass Ave at 4:00 AM on a Wednesday morning ... where red lights are only vague suggestions. They will, I promise you, take advantage of, and even be encouraged by, this policy statement. Expect trouble.


More like this

Teaching various religious beliefs in social studies does not sound bad, so long as it has valid teaching point. I remember learning about Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, etc... in social studies, I don't see how this is different. Granted, I seem to remember much of history class covering Christianity, its spread and various aspects of it. That being said, there is no real need to teach the specific religious beliefs. Especially when MANY Christians are still debating the creation and intelligent design. They disagree all over the place.

That being said, I think it could easily get out of hand if this comes up in the classroom. I remember a conversation at school where I ended up proclaiming "damn, you're all a bunch of morons!" to the entire senior class (of 13 kids) because of a theological discussion about cloning ended up getting into the nature of the soul. I had to explain to them that what you see in the movies is not possible, the new entity will be no more soulless than an identical twin and that sharing a soul seemed relatively impossible. Living in a backwards little town in west Texas... it's no surprise that has happened. I think trying to teach creationism at all is just looking for trouble.

I like the way one teacher explained it to the class. Paraphrased: "Evolution teaches about how life is, and how it changes from one generation to the next. It does not explain how life came to be. That is for other theories. I also do not require that you believe in evolution to pass my class, only that you are able to understand evolution, there is a big difference between the two."

I was actually friends with this teacher and we would have theological discussions that went WAY out of the scope the state would normally allow. She actually believed that the bible is not a literal depiction but rather a poetic one. That a supreme being did create the universe but he only set it in motion and perhaps guides it with little nudges here and there. If God is really all knowing and all powerful, he would be capable of arranging every particle of energy in the big bang in such a way as to produce every desired outcome in the universe without having to do anything afterwards. I actually agree that this is theoretically possible... but mentioned that there was no way to prove or disprove it. Theology is fun that way.

Nice article, definitely worth knowing. When I do have children and they go to school... I want to make sure that they're not being taught things that have no business in the classroom. I'm suprised that anyone is even considering teaching creationism in the classroom. I know they want to force their religion on people, I know they want people to think that their solution is just as likely as evolution... but they're looking to be sued! Let creationism be taught in private schools. Keep the public schools free from religious dogma.

When teaching elementary age children in a private Montessori school, I follwed the advice of one of my teachers - teach creation stories, all of them from all religions, together as a social studies or cultural unit. At the end of the unit, teach the scientific "creation" story and note the difference between mythology, religion, and science. It could still be abused by creationists, but if the basic lesson is that every culture has a creation story to tell, smart kids will see truth.

Could be a good idea, but I can think of at least one creation story that you can't teach in a public school without getting fired.

Maybe in a Las Vegas school...

I will bite. What story is that?
I remember my own 10th grade unit on mythology where we compared greek myth to christian myth. It was quite eye opening for me. -HG

By harley gee (not verified) on 07 Nov 2007 #permalink

It is part of the strategy of many pro-creationism groups to bring in creationism as a sort of "innocent bystander" in a broader discussion, but once it is in the classroom, it is easy for a teacher who wants to teach creationism to do so. The teacher can keep the actionable information ... handouts, words written on the boards, other teaching material ... within "legal limits" but allow or even encourage the conversation to go places it should not go.

Unfortunately, teachers will continue to do this anyway. Google "Matthew Laclair" for a pertinent example.

And what is the truth?
You say smart kids will see it... Well what happens when thier truth is not your truth??? Is it false because you think something different?
The whole thing just brings conflict...


It is actually something I would feel uncomfortable giving off the cuff without a lot of context as well. Perhaps some day I will write a couple of posts that together, will give the context and then the story. But thanks for asking!