Friday, July 22, 2005
Sent to Coventry
Yesterday (July 21st) was the 80th anniversary of the end of the so-called 'Monkey Trial' in Dayton, Tennessee, when teacher John T. Scopes was convicted of violating state law for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution.
How stupid and backward these people were, we laugh. And when we hear of present-day attempts to reintroduce creationism onto the curriculum in state schools in the USA, it merely confirms our prejudices about the backward culture of Americans.
Well you can wipe that smug grin off your face, because it's happening here and it's happening now - in Coventry. And before you ask, it's not Islamic.
The National Secular Society's Newsline (1st July) reports:
'Academies' are in any case a "hugely expensive" waste of taxpayers' money. But this is doubly scandalous. To hand over control of state education to religious fundamentalists, and allow them to teach creationist superstition on a par with science, isn't 'choice' - it's a disgrace.
Christian fundamentalists anxious to push their barmy creationist theories think all their birthdays have come at once with Mr Blair’s Academy school programme. For a relatively small amount (in fundamentalist terms) they can take over a school and push crackpot theories on to children with no questions asked.
Christian multi-millionaire Bob Edmiston is now proposing sponsorship of a second city academy at Woodway Park School in Coventry. The super-rich Christian evangelist is already putting out propaganda aimed at reassuring the community it is aimed at. The council has agreed to go forward with the proposition.
However, not all councillors are happy with the development. Cllr Dave Nellist said: "This is far more dangerous than faith schools. Forty per cent of the academy sponsors are Christian and they are all fundamentalist Christians. There is the question of other academies teaching creationism on a par with evolution which is going back to the middle ages. If I won the lottery would I be able to open an academy on Marxist principles?"
Cllr Derek Benefield said: "I am concerned that the government is playing politics with our children. A secular state school is going to be replaced, in effect, by a religious school. At the moment, religious schools are optional. In this case, parents who live in the catchment area may be forced to send their children to this school against their will if places are not available in other schools. This totally flies in the face of Tony Blair's talk about parental 'choice'."
Christian groups appear keen to gain a strong presence in the academy programme. Christian charity the Oasis Trust set up an 'academies consultancy ' shortly after the expansion drive was announced to help other religious propagandists to sponsor the new secondaries. Mr Edmiston’s Grace Academy in Chelmsley Wood will replace Whitesmore School and is due to open in September 2006.
Ken Purchase, Labour MP for Wolverhampton North East, attacked the move and his party's policy on academies. "I think Labour’s policy on this is an absolute disaster," he said. "I say keep religion out of education. Leave that job to the parents and the church. If churches wish people to become Christian and Gurdwaras wish them to become Sikh and people from the Muslim faith want them to learn Islam they have a perfect right to do so. I absolutely defend their right to do this. But keep it out of our schools."
Cllr John Blundell, Coventry City Council's cabinet member for children's services, said: "This is the beginning of the process and not the end and there will be opportunity for a full exploration of the issue." He was confident Woodway Park sponsor Mr Edmiston would continue to run the school with input from Coventry City Council and wouldn't impose his religious views on pupils.
Bob Edmiston's right-hand man in charge of the academy project, Steve Chase, tried to soothe the mounting concerns when he said the schools would be open to anyone "of any faith or even no faith" (note that he does not say that those of non-Christian, no-religious origin will have equal access – they might get a place if there are any left after deserving people get in). It will have a "Christian ethos" with "Christian values and principles." So what might that involve?
He told the Coventry Evening News: "They are probably more towards the values society generally would want children to have anyway – honesty, integrity, work ethic, caring, concern for others, a sense of social responsibility, good behaviour, respect for others, tolerance, all those sorts of things."
But then the truth is slipped in ever so quietly. The school will teach creationism as well as Darwin’s theory of evolution, in the "appropriate lessons" and it would teach children about other religious faiths, he said.
Mr Chase told the Evening News: "What we've said is we will teach evolution — because it is a theory still, unless someone has found the missing link and proofs to put it to bed once and for all — and creationism, in the appropriate subjects. Certainly evolution is usually taught in science and creationism is usually in RE, but that would not exclude a closer look at comparative theories of the origins of the world in either subject."
Mr Edmiston, as sponsor, commits to putting £2 million into the academy – which, as one of the richest men in the country, amounts to pocket money for him. The government (through our taxes) will then turn over another £25 million to create a new building for the school. Taxpayers will also be responsible for all ongoing costs – running into tens of millions over the years. In exchange, Mr Edmiston gets the opportunity to promote his mad ideas to a captive audience of children.
Edmiston's fortune comes from the IM Group, which imports Subarus and Daihatsu cars. He also founded the evangelical charity Christian Vision, which has a network of Christian radio stations around the world, broadcasting religious propaganda to South America, India, Africa, China and Indonesia.
Asked to define creationism, Mr Chase said: "If you ask 20 people you'll get 20 different answers. It will range from extreme dogma — and this won't just be Christian, but quite a few religions — (which) say God created and that's that. He did it in six days and then had a day off. That's the Christian version. Many faiths have slightly different slants on that. Many faiths believe in a creator. At the other extreme, even within faith circles, it would be creation through evolution. In the end, none of it is proved conclusively. It's Darwin's theory, isn't it? The theory of evolution. It has various different interpretations of that. I wouldn't want to say, myself. They are not mutually exclusive necessarily."
Council promises to consult on the matter in September and October.
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