Creationism, Islamism and the myopia of the National Secular Society
Creationism: the religious belief that humanity, life, the Earth, and the universe are the creation of a supernatural being; associated with Intelligent Design: the claim that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection (Wikipedia).
Islamism: a set of ideologies holding that Islam is not only a religion but also a political system; the enforcement of sharia (Islamic law) on Muslims; of pan-Islamic political unity; and of the elimination of non-Muslim, particularly western military, economic, political, social, or cultural influences in the Muslim world (Wikipedia).
His Grace does not usually quote from Wikipedia, for obvious reasons. But for the purposes of this post, these definitions will suffice. Essentially, applications to establish an academy which proposes to teach Creationism as scientific theory will be rejected, as will applications which intend to undermine the principles of liberal democracy.
A moment of jubilation from the National Secular Society caught His Grace’s eye, when they were publicly referring to lobbying meetings they had held with the Department for Education during which they appear to have been assured that no new free schools would be permitted to teach either Creationism as science or Islamism as citizenship. These restrictions seemed eminently sensible, but His Grace wondered at the correlation of the two prohibitions, and so entered into a little dialogue with the NSS. He asked if these two beliefs had somehow been equated, to which the following response was received:
They denied that they were ‘equated’, but confirmed that these were the only two prohibitions stipulated by the DfE. His Grace responded that the juxtaposition implies correlation: the intention to teach either automatically bars one from opening a free school. The NSS replied:
To which His Grace responded:
And there was silence.
One can perhaps understand why the NSS is obsessively prioritising its lobbying efforts on the eradication of Creationism from the science lab and Islamism from Citizenship classes, but it is awfully narrow and shortsighted of them to do so, not least because it is not at all clear how a school’s teaching of either can be monitored effectively. Ofsted visit every 4-5 years, during which an entire cohort of children will have passed through their compulsory secondary education. And it doesn’t take long at all to instill a particular belief perspective or inculcate a political worldview. As the Jesuits are wont to say: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man.”
There is a curious and irreconcilable tension between the DfE’s desire to devolve and liberalise (indeed, abolish) the National Curriculum – encouraging free schools to forge their own – and the simultaneous desire to impose a National Curriculum on the vast majority of schools.
If Creationism and Islamism are to be banned, by what rationale is the DfE permitting the establishment of new academies founded upon ‘breathing philosophy’, the principles of sharia or extremist (ie intolerant) atheism?
But let us set aside Religious Studies for a moment and consider the History syllabus. Is it not something of a contradiction that an autonomous free school should simultaneously have imposed upon it a standardised national history syllabus which is to be written by someone vetted and approved by the Secretary of State?
And what is applicable for History must a fortiori be applicable to Religious Studies. Mr Gove cannot have it both ways. Either one trusts parents and teachers or one does not. Either one is prescriptively imposing a centralised national curriculum or one is not.
And if this Secretary of State is permitted by Act of Parliament to demand that academies teach a ‘Right-wing’ or an ‘Empire’ view of history, or prioritise the Christian traditions and foundations of the nation, or propagate a sceptical view of man-made global warming, then his successors will be endowed with that very same authority to ensure the teaching of whatever leftist, globalist, multi-faith, multi-cultural or ‘environmentalist’ creed he or she deems appropriate for the next generation of children.
When the NSS rejoice in their apparent success at the eradication of Creationists and Islamists from the classroom, one has to wonder at their level of comprehension of the complexities and their awareness of the reality: Creationism does not need to be taught in the laboratory for it to be inculcated as truth; Islamism does not need to be taught as Citizenship for it to be instilled in the mind of the child as fact. Students may be inducted into either of these ‘philosophies’ through the school’s ethos – a Greek word meaning custom, nature or disposition, referring to the characteristic spirit or attitudes of community.
What if a Christian school agrees with the DfE that Creationism does indeed not belong on the Biology syllabus, but then inducts children into believing that Religious Studies and the daily act of collective worship are of far greater significance than any other aspect of the curriculum? What if a Muslim school eschews Islamism, yet inculcates in every taught subject the supremacy of Mohammed and the infallibility Qur’an?
In what sense have either Creationism or Islamism been ‘defeated’?
If state education is to be handed to autonomous groups of parents and teachers, the state must retain the power to propagate its history, traditions and culture. If it abdicates that responsibility, we risk producing entire generations of children who will grow up ignorant of the origins of our language, literature and the art and science of our civilisation. Islamism is indeed a threat to our way of life. But Creationism?