08 May 2007

Alberta public schools and the lies they tell

In the beginning, only water lay beneath the sky. There being no solid place to dwell upon, the first people lived in the heavens. One day the chief’s daughter fell ill and he could find no cure. An elder told the people to dig up a tree and lay the girl beside it. As the people dug, the tree suddenly fell through the hole and dragged the chief’s daughter with it. Two swans, swimming on the water below, heard a clap of thunder and looked up to see the sky open and the tree and the girl fall into the water. The swans swam to the girl and supported her, and took her to the Great Turtle, master of all the animals. The Great Turtle called a council. He told the animals that Woman Fallen from the Sky presaged good fortune. He commanded them to find the tree that had fallen and bring up earth from its roots so that they could build an island on his back for the woman to live upon. The swans led the animals to the place the tree had fallen and Otter, then Muskrat and then Beaver dived into the depths. But the dive was so deep they returned to the surface utterly exhausted, and rolled over and died. Many others tried but they too succumbed. Finally old lady Toad took her turn. She was gone so long everyone thought she was lost forever when suddenly she emerged and before she too died she spat a mouthful of earth onto the back of the Great Turtle. The earth was magical and began to grow. When it was large enough, the animals set the girl down upon it. Still it grew, until it became the great earth island we live upon today.
This charming myth, this delightful bit of nonsense, was once an ancient truth to the Iroquois people of eastern North America. It was their theory of how the earth was formed and how people came to dwell upon it -- their creation myth. This myth will not, however, be taught as truth in Mitford Middle School, a public school in Cochrane, Alberta. The Christian creation myth of Genesis will.

It, too, is charming, a delightful bit of nonsense, but it will be taught as scientific fact at Mitford. The Rocky View School Division is instituting a Christian program at Mitford, supplementing one it already has in place in a school in Chestermere and adding to similar programs in Elk Island, Pembina Hills and Red Deer public school districts.

Mitford's principal, Bill Bell, says Christian beliefs will be woven through every subject in the program. Regarding teaching the Christian creation myth as science, he added, "The first teaching will be from a Christian point of view and then there will be an acknowledgment that there is another theory."

Another theory? If he's referring to evolution, that life evolves is a fact not just "another theory" -- at least as much as we can know a fact. He may be thinking of Darwin's theory of evolution, i.e. natural selection, which is the mechanism of evolution, the way it works, not evolution itself. And a sound theory it is, having withstood any serious challenge for nearly 150 years.

As to Genesis, it is one creation myth among hundreds, even thousands. All peoples had one at one time, at least until science came along. To teach a creation myth as science is to insult science, education and, indeed, Mitford public school. To say nothing of betraying children to lies. And to do it at public expense is outrageous.

Public money spent on education should not be used to indoctrinate children in theology -- that's the questionable business of home and church -- and it should certainly not be spent on programs that exclude children because of religious belief. The "Christian" program at Mitford doesn't just exclude atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other religious groups, it even excludes most Christians. It isn't so much Christian as fundamentalist Christian. Most Christians after all, including the Catholic Church, have come to terms with the fact of evolution.

If we are going to exploit public education to substitute fairy tales for facts, then in all fairness we should give the Great Turtle his due as well.

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