Evolution comes to SA schools

Things are about to get interesting for South African biology teachers – as of next year, they will be charged with teaching evolution in Grade 12.

Yes, strange as it may seem, up until now one of the most elegant concepts in science, one of the greatest achievements of human thought, has been avoided as a subject in SA schools. Children have learned about Galileo and Newton and Einstein, but when in comes to Darwin, they have been left in the dark. No longer, says the education department, but it is well aware it’s going to have a fight on its hands.

You see, SA is no different than some other countries we won’t mention directly, in that we have a fairly large religious contingent who similarly believe that their made up stories about the origin of man should somehow compete with, or even overshadow, all that the human race has learned about the world in the last two millenia. Yes indeed, there are going to be plenty of parents who will eagerly point out to any who will listen that they are determined to ensure their children remain as ignorant as they are.

But what you wouldn’t expect is for teachers to be opposed to improving children’s education, yet that is exactly what the education department is facing already:

At a recent conference on teacher training, a teacher said: “I am disappointed about the fact that evolution attacks God’s creation. It also mixes Genesis with idol worshippers of Babylon, which were never there when God created planet Earth.”

Another said he thought the topic should be voluntary because he didn’t think it suitable for people who believe in God. “I am totally against evolution,” another teacher said.

Matters came to a head after snippets of a video, Tiny Humans: Finding Hobbits in Flores, was shown. The video traces the origin of tiny prehistoric humans somewhere on an Indonesian island. They are depicted as short and dark-skinned people. This offended some black teachers. They said that evolution was a racist theory. It “terribly undermines black people, everything bad gets a black colour. It means blacks were apes,” they said.

Right, why not? I mean, it’s not as if their job is to educate people, implying that they might actually be educated themselves. I’m sure ignorance and rash assumption is a requirement for people charged with the edification of our children.

And what is the education department’s response?

The department had been “sensitive to the views of a wide range of persons and attempts at all times to demonstrate this sensitivity” in introducing evolution…

No child would be compelled to “adopt” or “defend the viewpoint or any way subscribe to evolution”. So there could be no reason for parents to take legal action, Vinjevold said.

The department took into account the fact that different theories offered a variety of explanations on the origin of human beings. Evolution was one of such explanations and learners were not expected to believe it, but to see it as one school of thought, she said.

What kind of namby-pamby, bullshit response is that? Can you imagine if they were saying that no child would be compelled to “adopt” or “defend” or “subscribe” to the theory of gravity? That different theories offered a variety of explanations for why masses were attracted to each other, but gravity was only one of such explanations and learners were not expected to believe it? The thought isn’t silly because the theory of gravity is somehow more solid or factual than evolution… it’s just because there isn’t a major world religion that believes the reason planets are attracted to each other, and we to them, is due to Intelligent Falling.

22 Responses to “Evolution comes to SA schools”

  1. Con-Tester Says:

    Good blog entry, mf!

    To paraphrase a maxim from the enemies of reason: “The greatest trick religion ever pulled was convincing the world that its stories are unassailably true.” Before we can engage in any meaningful or fruitful discussions regarding evolution vs. creation in its various guises, I think we first have to dispel the myth that challenging another’s religious beliefs is not allowed or that such beliefs somehow deserve a special dispensation.

    I am tempted to call that approach an Intelligent Teaching Theory.

  2. God help us. Or maybe not.

  3. I think the tragedy here is the branding of evolution as a racist theory. The depiction of the Flores people, or any other ancestors for that matter, as black has got no logical bearing on evolutionary theory.

    The fact that such an association could have been made is very sad. It will interfere with the logical evaluation of what needs to be taught, and probably impede any further attempts at understanding. Once again, South Africa’s cultural pre-occupation with race shows its destructive influence.

  4. It may be nowhere near perfect but it’s a start. Better half a loaf than none. It will be interesting to see if in SA which is relatively poorer than the USA the idea of evolution takes off. In the USA their greater wealth allows them to have bullshit ideas with little effect on their standard of living.

  5. It’s interesting that, whenever the word “intelligent” pops up, you can be pretty sure that stupidity is just around the corner.

  6. Weren’t we already taught evolution in school? I mean, I don’t remember much from school, but I heard all about evolution somewhere…

    In fact I know of grade 7’s learning about “Lucy” and her role in human evolution – so it’s not like it’s NOT already being taught, or do they just mean it’s now going to become compulsory for all schools?

    I hope there’s a little more motivation to it than just that “it teaches learners to think critically and analytically” – surely there’s something better they could be studying with their time? I mean people learning about evolution is all good and fine, but I mean those going on to study biology after school (who may actually have a need for it) will learn it then… after school.

    Anyway, it will be interesting to see what comes of it🙂 I’m sure the world will be a completely different (and much better) place once we all realise we evolved from monkeys, and I’m glad it’s a priority to our education department as opposed to educating the kids on topics such as “aids”, “global warming” and “war” or getting them to apply any “critical” or “analytical” thinking to them.

  7. (sorry, only saw this afterwards)

    “Teachers of evolution will need to be well trained”

    SURELY we’re more worried about improving the training of our maths and science teachers? “More than half of South Africa’s current maths and science teachers are not properly qualified” – http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?click_id=13&set_id=1&art_id=vn20070928033353855C425298 – and seeing as we can’t get that right, maybe we shouldn’t be worrying about training any different kind of teachers until we’ve got that resolved.

    That’s like training historians, instead of doctors, while your country is in desperate need of medical care😐

    Anyway, what do I know… wish I could think critically or analytically…

  8. Kyknoord: Did you know that Intelligence and Stupidity are actually twins but the vote is still out on which is the evil one.

    I am surprised, I didn’t do high school so I always thought it was taught.

  9. GeneMachine Says:

    Ross, you clearly were not taught evolution at school. If you were you couldn’t possibly make the statement that “we evolved from monkeys”. This shows a fundamental ignorance of the theory of evolution. Nor could you relegate the importance of teaching evolution as lower than that of teaching subjects such as AIDS, etc.

    The department’s hand-wringing explanation that this enables the teaching of analytical thinking is just a smokescreen (I hope) to placate potential creationist objectors. Be that as it may, the theory of evolution is one of the most basic and important cornerstones of modern science. It’s like teaching science without ever mentioning the theory of electro-magnetic radiation. Are you seriously suggesting that we teach a scientific subject only once the kid has left school? What do we teach in school? How do you research AIDS without knowing anything about evolution? Are we going to ignore bio-technology – probably the worlds next greatest wave of technological advancement?

  10. Why would we want to teach evolution in schools? You mean besides the fact that it is one of the most important theories in all of science, and that biology as a subject is nothing more than a collection of unrelated factoids until you learn the theory that explains the reasons why the living world is as it is?

    How about the fact that the story of Darwin’s discovery is a cornucopia of anecdotes about Occam’s Razor, curiousity, enthusiasm for the glories of nature, and the scientific method?

    How about the fact that the theory in itself is one of the most beautiful and elegant examples of how great complexity may arise from a relatively simple process? The journey from simple to complex is one that shows itself again and again in all realms of science, where i would consider two other jaw-dropping examples being that the whole of electromagnetic theory, and the whole of general relativity, can each be written as a single equation.

    How about the fact that evolution explains ethics from a completely secular point of view, allowing us to expound upon social amity, co-operation and the golden rule in terms that do not credit any one group or system with their invention and therefore the sole decision of what is moral and what not?

    Finally, and most importantly, how about the fact that it teaches humility – evolution tells us that the human race is not special or chosen, which is probably the bit that most irks the religious. We are the by-product of an ongoing, impersonal process that has no real interest or investment in us beyond our ability to procreate, and on top of it we’re not even the end point of that process, we’re just a step along the slow, meandering path in a journey to nowhere specific.

    If they can get even one school child to take this realisation from the theory of evolution, then the teachers have done their job.

  11. Ross: I think the reason they’re saying teachers will have to be well trained is because if evolution has never been official syllabus before, it means no education diploma has ever included a section on the teaching of evolution. This is separate to the question of whether the existing education qualifications prepare teachers for maths and science classrooms in general. That, and the fact that teaching maths and science doesn’t usually have to come with a section on what to do if your pupils or their parents accuse you of going against god’s will and corrupting the youth by teaching them facts🙂

  12. GeneMachine Says:

    mf, your “why teach evolution” post is beautiful. And inspiring. Of course, good science need have no practical application – knowledge can be an end in itself.

    But because Ross clearly cannot see any use for teaching evolution at school since we have so many “practical” problems to deal with, how about a starter list:

    Bioinformatics
    Interpretation of our genome
    Drug development
    Drug resistance research
    Vaccine development
    Parasitic virus identification and control
    Specie extinction forecasting and intervention
    Wildlife management
    Protein “breeding”
    Computation using genetic algorithms

  13. Moonflake: I believe your final point is the true reason. People don’t want to believe that they are nothing in a greater circle. Nothing changes the circle when they are born, while they live and eventually die. It keeps going and they are forgotten when those who knew them die. It’s arrogant to think that your live has any effect on anything.

  14. GeneMachine: thanks🙂 but let’s not turn this into a Ross-bashing session – he asked a question, he got an answer. Oh, and good point on the ‘evolved from monkeys’ statement – you’re absolutely right, no one who understands evolution would say that! It’s probably the litmus test, followed closely by misuse of the term ‘random’.

  15. i object. i studied evolution at varsity, and it was one of the few courses that i passed. so i have a pretty good idea of the more recent developments in our species, but i still like to say that we evolved from monkeys

    although, that might just be to piss people off

  16. GeneMachine: you must be right then, so I probably wasn’t taught evolution at school – oh well, there goes any chances I had of contributing anything to society, without my degree in evolution. Guess I’ll just go hang out in some trees or something. I’m not saying science shouldn’t be taught in school, I just (ignorantly) feel evolution isn’t the most practical or beneficial science to be teaching (as opposed to how a motor engine, or electricity, works).

    moonflake: I have no idea what “cornucopia of anecdotes about Occam’s Razor” means – well didn’t until I did some googling anyway🙂 Regardless of whether evolution is “one of the most beautiful and elegant examples…” or not, it wont directly put bread on your table, nor would I consider humility a scientific priority – socially yes, scientifically no.

    I just think resources that are now going to be used to train teachers who have no experience should rather be put to use better training current teachers (such as those not properly qualified in maths and science).

    GeneMachine: no-one I know is involved in any of the things you listed (at least not directly) – so once again, my point… everyone has to pay taxes, everyone has to earn a salary, every has to provide food for their family, everyone has to be able to support themselves when they retire. I think teachings relating to “every day life” should be the priorities taught in schools, while “higher education” provide for the more specialised fields.

    I doubt the theory of evolution makes much difference to a homeless person living on the side of the road, whereas some mechanical skills might just allow him to earn some income (hypothetically of course).

    Anyway, I don’t come to pick fights – I actually really enjoy your blog moonflake😉 I just think our education department’s focus is wrong, but I’m happy to agree to disagree if you all feel I’m mistaken, I just know I’d prefer my son coming home from school and actually being able to do something (ie: farm / build / invent) than be able to recite theory (yeh, what tells you I didn’t like History much).

  17. Ross: I think the trouble you’re having here is because you don’t really understand evolution (not your fault, shoddy education system) you don’t realise that it has practical applications. Your use of the term ‘recite theory’ here implies you think that this is all there is to it. I’m sorry to have to say this, but the basic lack of understanding that underlies and informs all of the arguments against teaching evolution that you’ve made here, actually amounts to an argument FOR teaching evolution! Just remember, it’s being taught in a content subject – if you don’t think your kids need to learn biology to further their job prospects, then tell them not to take biology when they hit Grade 10! It’s as simple as that. But don’t screw over the kids who want to be doctors just because you want your kids to fix cars for a living.

    In any case, school is not about preparing kids for a job, or the only requirement for any job would be a matric certificate. School is about making sure that by the time we release a kid into the world they have some basic idea of how it works and how to be a functioning human being. Understanding why and how LIFE exists is probably a pretty important part of it, at least as important as knowing why we stick to the planet instead of floating off into space, why war is a bad idea, and that 1 + 1 = 2.

  18. moonflake: fair enough, and I’d agree that I don’t see the practical applications of evolution (at least not that would require it becoming compulsory teaching). Clearly we have different views on what it is that’s important to being a “functioning human being”, so guess we should leave it there – or we could keep going back and forth forever…

  19. […] Small sacrilegious steps 8 November 2007 at 10:03 am | In Let us prey | You can read Moonflake’s take on the matter here. […]

  20. […] There is a good analysis of this provided by Smoke and Mirrors. […]

  21. Excuse me, people.
    Are you aware that there is a huge difference between theory and fact? This question had a huge effect on my life. In the past I used to be a staunch believer of the evolution theory myself; I even defended it to the last. I had been raised in a Christian home; but I was ready to throw out my beliefs for the sake of evolution.
    You see, I was (and still am) a lover of the truth. What do we have if we don’t have truth? Truth is everything, and it should triumph over every religion, belief and opinion, shouldn’t it?
    Now, the truth is that evolution is not a fact, even though it is widely taught as such. There are seven different definitions (or forms) of evolution, of which only one has ever been scientifically observed. The other six remain theories, and they exist only in the imagination of evolutionists who want to believe in them. Micro-evolution (or adaptation) is variation within the same kind; variations in the dog- or finch-families, for example. This is observed scientifically, and is obviously a fact. However, evolutionists theorize that micro-evolution can (given enough time) turn into macro-evolution, which is the gradual mutation of one kind to another, more advanced and complex kind. This has never ever been observed, yet it is taught as fact. Sadly, evolutionists have always been very successful in convincing uninformed audiences of macro-evolution while using examples of micro-evolution as ‘proof’.
    When you honestly look at every aspect of the evolution theory and scientific facts, you clearly see that evolution is not science; it is religion. Everything evolution claims as ‘proof’ can easily be disproven scientifically, for example: The earth, together with the universe, is not billions of years old. Fossils don’t take millions of years to form, the process is actually quite rapid. Cave formations, like stalagmites for example, don’t take millions of years to from. There is not a single example of a transitional form in the fossil record. Evolutionists often use the term ‘missing link’ when really the whole chain is missing! I could go on for hours and hours.
    The point is: When you teach a non-factual belief system as fact, it is not education. It is indoctrination!
    If you are a lover of truth, you probably have many questions by now. Feel free to ask.
    On the other hand, defenders of the lie get all angry and defensive when confronted with the truth. Please don’t discard my claims without honestly testing them for yourself, or asking me for more facts. If you do, it really doesn’t say a lot for your own wisdom…
    May your eyes be opened, dear friends; may you be freed from the bondage of this lie. There is so much more to say…
    Johan

  22. The mistake people make is to compare evolution to creation. they are two totally different topics. Evolution is the study of how we got here. It is a science and will always lead to another question as all science does. Creation is the study of why we are here and that is what the bible explains. Do not look to the Bible to find the answers to science, as do not look to a biology book to find answers about God. Use each book as they are intended for and dont yuse either to discredit the other. Only God really noes if you came from a monkey or not. Does it matter to science? absolutley. Does it matter to me today absolutley not. I am not a monkey nor were any people that I no that came before me. I do believe how we live and what we teach our children is more important than what happened millions of years ago. The world is in terrible shape and getting worse. I believe Darwin himself said “it woudl be a shame if he was actually right” Teach our children to love and honor God and teach our scientist to study science. One is down in a lab the other done in a church.

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