British Schools Just Banned Something Taught to Millions of American Children

British Schools Just Banned Something Taught to Millions of American Children

The news: Teaching students that creationism is an evidence-based theory is now banned in all public schools across the United Kingdom, according to new documents from the British government. Here are the new standards, which institute a:

...requirement for every academy and free school to provide a broad and balanced curriculum in any case prevents the teaching of creationism as evidence based theory in any academy or free school.

According to io9, this means any "academy or free school" in the U.K. which teaches creationism to students would be breaking its funding agreement with the government. Academies are roughly equivalent to charter schools in the U.S., while "free schools" are nonprofit independent schools funded by taxpayer dollars, which can be organized by parents, teachers, charities and businesses. The new language updates a 2012 rule which required all future free schools that teach the theory of natural selection alone to include academies and all existing free schools.

This means that the U.K. is on track to more or less completely end the practice of teaching creationism in publicly funded schools. However, it does permit creationism and other beliefs about the origin of the Earth and life to be taught in classes on religion, so long as they are not presented as valid alternatives to scientific theory. While there are further reforms needed in other educational sectors across the U.K., it looks like the biggest step toward getting religion out of taxpayer-funded science classes has just been accomplished.

Contrast that to the U.S.: In the U.S., some $1 billion in taxpayer funding across 14 states goes to private schools. Earlier this year, Politico reported that those private schools included "hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies."

In the U.S., just the states of Louisiana and Tennessee currently permit creationism and its offshoot, intelligent design, to be taught as alternatives to evolution in public schools. But across much of the South and Midwest, private schools that teach creationism are able to accept millions of dollars in public funding. Slate has a relatively up-to-date, comprehensive map of such schools here. There really are hundreds of them.

Map of schools teaching creationism. Image Credit: Slate

From Politico's report:

... many of these faith-based schools go beyond teaching the biblical story of the six days of creation as literal fact. Their course materials nurture disdain of the secular world, distrust of momentous discoveries and hostility toward mainstream scientists. They often distort basic facts about the scientific method — teaching, for instance, that theories such as evolution are by definition highly speculative because they haven't been elevated to the status of "scientific law."

One set of books popular in Christian schools calls evolution "a wicked and vain philosophy." Another derides "modern math theorists" who fail to view mathematics as absolute laws ordained by God. The publisher notes that its textbooks shun "modern" breakthroughs — even those, like set theory, developed back in the 19th century.

In the U.S., the settled science of evolution is still pretty touchy. Missouri, for example, is considering a bill that would "alert" parents to any discussion of natural evolution in schools. And a 2013 Pew poll found that just 6 in 10 Americans believe that life evolved over time (including via the guidance of a supreme being), compared to 87% of scientists.

Why you should care: Pew found that Americans widely disagree with scientists on a variety of issues, including embryonic stem cell research, the use of animals in laboratory testing, nuclear power, childhood vaccinations and the causes and scale of global warming. At a time when the economy increasingly values education in highly technical STEM fields and large-scale scientific projects are more important than ever before, it would be nice if taxpayer dollars funded secular, scientific education instead of religious dogma.