Teaching Creationism in Social Studies: The Wedge Strategy, Plan B

Plan B is, of course, inserting Christian Creationism into the Social Studies curriculum. This is disconcerting. Many otherwise perfectly rational and intelligent people think this is a good idea. It is not.

This sort of proposal is becoming more common now (this week) in editorials and other opinion outlets, with the defeat of the Wedge Strategy to water down the science standards in Florida. (This rebound effect occurs every time creationists are defeated.)

So, why is this not a good idea?

Social studies is a broad field of investigation that has many important goals. Like modern science education, the breadth and depth of social studies has increased in recent decades, and become more complicated, while the time afforded to this topic has remained roughly static.

Cultural awareness, more critically developed historical perspectives, greater attention to civics, and other issues demand a place in the social studies curriculum. While it is reasonable to consider including issues of religion and society in a social studies curriculum, the machinations of a particular religious group (American Christian Fundamentalists) should not be required in the curriculum. The curriculum should be developed as quality curriculum based on best practices within the field, not legislated from local school boards or state education agencies, which are in turn manipulated by well funded special interest groups.

More importantly, taking the Christian Fundamentalist view that the folklore of Genesis is an exact rendition of Earth history .... in other words, inserting the Genesis account or some Creation Science version of it, as a valid viewpoint ... is just as inappropriate in the social studies classroom as it is in the science classroom.

It has been easy, too easy, for those attempting to defend real science in the life science classroom to say "... that stuff (creationism) may have a place in religious class or social studies, but not in science..." I'm sorry, but that view is misguided and wrong.

Perhaps a comparative religion class would attend to a particular current belief system, or maybe it would not. Creationists want their particular religion included as required in the classroom. Is it appropriate to regulate or legislate that a particular subtopic be required in a curriculum on religion? ....by those who happen to hold those particular beliefs? Furthermore, would it not be the case that the language requiring Christian Fundamentalism as a necessary component of the curriculum would specify that this is a legitimate, primary, or accepted belief system to the exclusion of at least some others? Are the fundamentalists advocating for requiring Biblical Literalism going to be happy with a version of a comparative religion class that does not give extra weight to their particular beliefs, or that perhaps criticizes their beliefs? I suspect not.

The situation would be even worse in a Social Studies curriculum, because modern Social Studies requires a critical and thoughtful view in a broader social context. Think of it this way. When you are designing a course, one good approach is to think about the test questions first, and work your way backwards from there. (No, this is not about teaching to the test ... it is an old, tried and true method for making sure you get where you want to be going with your lesson plans....) So, what kinds of questions, and more importantly, what kinds of answers, regarding Christian Fundamentalism would be appropriate on a Social Studies test that is not desgined to pander to particular religious beliefs?

Imagine an essay on the question "how do you tell a religion from a cult... is there a difference?" that examines Catholicism, Southern Baptist snake handlers, and Mormons? What is the acceptable, standards-based grading rubric for this going to look like, and how will this jive (or not) with what Pat Roberson would say? What about an examination of religion and politics that looks at the Creationist movement? There is simply no way that such an examination, realistically, could avoid exposing and discussing the long litany of lies that come from the Creationist camps. A social studies class could look in depth and critically at the Dover Trial. There are a lot of ways to describe and interpret the Dover Trial, but any version of this that does not make the pro-creationism side look like a pack of devious liars would be ingenuous.

You can't teach critical thinking and pretend that the creationists are not lying most of the time.

So, ultimately, the only possible outcome of an organized effort to push Christan Fundamentalist Biblical Literalism, Creation Science, Intelligent Design (all different forms of creationism) into the Social Science curriculum will require state sponsored interpretations of reality bent to make the creationists look good, or at least, not look too bad. In a Life Science class, it is sufficient to say that Creationism is not relevant. In a Social Studies class, it would be necessary to call Creationism what it is. That fight could be more vitriolic, more absurd, and more counter productive than the creationism-evolution fight.

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There is simply no way that such an examination, realistically, could avoid exposing and discussing the long litany of lies that come from the Creationist camps.

I believe that that is exactly what the proponents of the "teach it in social studies" approach have in mind. Plus, of course, showing modern American fundamentalism in context with other, less obviously insane, religions. Done right, it would completely undercut the ridiculous assertion that evolution is necessarily in opposition to religious belief.

However, the obvious bugaboo is the "done right" part. Given the difficulty in getting evolution taught in biology class, I can certainly see why you'd expect very strong interference in any kind of reasonable comparative study of religion.

Agree, Dunc. If you teach Creationism in the "History of Science" portion of Social Studies alongside the "Flat Earth" and Geocentric Universe ideas, it will be in fine company. Or it could be mentioned in the context of social resistance to science, such as in the days of the Scopes Monkey Trial. There is also the buffer against establishment of religion, which means that Creationism could not be taught in isolation, but in some context, either Comparative Religions, History, or Sociopolitical Movements, most of which cannot be covered in great depth anyway at the high school level.

Simply including Creationism into a Social Studies curriculum puts it into the category of social ideas, rather than science, and no matter how wrongheaded it may be, that is the place for it.

You may recall that in 2006, Frazier Mountain High School took the "teach it in Social Studies" line literally. They set up a course to teach ID in a non-science department. Whups, they couldn't tell the difference between ID and good old-fashioned banned-by-the-Supreme-Court Creation Science.

By Kalia's little… (not verified) on 21 Feb 2008 #permalink

"Teaching Creationism in Social Studies: The Wedge Strategy, Plan B"

Hang on, I thought they were against Plan B! Ach, it's so hard to keep up . . .

Why do we still have social studies? I mean why don't we call it what it is, Geography, History, etc, and not something so broad? Do students now get anthropology and sociology? because that is more of what I think of with a title like social studies.

On the real topic, I am torn about it. As a religion scholar, I am all for people learning religion, but I certainly don't think school is a place for religious beliefs to be indoctrinated (at least public schools), which is almost certainly what would happen in this situation.

It's also something that current teachers probably have not really been trained to handle properly, the majority of them were probably out of school before ID became prevalent etc, whihc might mean schools falling back on pastors and lay religious individuals, never a good thing.

I think it would be interesting if they had the school science teacher step in and give a guest class or section in the social studies department, as I am sure that they often have a better understanding of what is going on.

It should be taught in an English Literature class on Mythology.

No, history is appropriate--right alongside Protestant slave taking, the Papal contributions to pregnant teenagers, National Socialism and the slaughter of Jews, or the current ID voter backed Bush regime and its religious justification of the slaughter of Iraqi's and oil grabbing--as well as teaching it as Mythology.
Maybe for the hard history portion, a little discussion about the Queen of Sheba, and the gospel of Mary?

By the rail cmf (not verified) on 22 Feb 2008 #permalink

Texas Freedom Network has info about how (the most popular) Bible curriculum is actually used in the classroom. Commissioned by TFN, "Dr. Mark Chancey, who teaches biblical studies at Southern Methodist University, has authored an in-depth analysis of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools - The Bible in History and Literature (Ablu Publishing, 2005)." I've been hoping to follow this issue more closely, but haven't had time... I was going to start here: http://www.tfn.org/religiousfreedom/biblecurriculum/

This issue reminds me of the seemingly benign "moment of silence"; who would argue against a harmless moment of silence,... or the Bible as literature or history,... or academic freedom expressed by simply examining evolution from a critical viewpoint? All based on deception and lies.