"Education Minister Brendan Nelson gave the nod yesterday for a form of creationism to be taught in schools alongside the theory of evolution. ... Addressing the National Press Club, Dr Nelson said the controversial new theory known as intelligent design had enough merit to be included in the school curriculum. The theory is receiving growing support in the United States, with the blessing of President George Bush. But Dr Nelson said he didn't believe it should replace scientific lessons about the origins of life. `But do I think that parents in schools should have the opportunity if they wish to for students also to be exposed to this and be taught about it? Yes, I think that's fine,' he said.'"The story is also in today's Sydney Morning Herald, under the headline, Nelson brings intelligent design debate to Australia, and in its sister paper The Melbourne Age as, "'Intelligent design' an option: Nelson."
However, it may not mean as much as it seems, because education in Australia is primarily the responsibility of the State governments. Nevertheless, it is a very important development in the history of ID. It is going to be interesting to see the reaction from the Australian anti-ID side.
An important difference between Australia and the USA is that while there is a similar clause in the Australian constitution (S. 116) about the Federal Parliament not making any law for establishing of any religion as in the USA, the High Court has interpreted that fairly literally and has consistently supported Federal funding of private religious schools, for example. The result is there is no strict judicail doctrine of the separation of Church and State as in the USA and there has never as far as I know been the equivalent of the USA's creationism trials to test it. It is for example, perfectly legal and normal for religious education to be taught in State schools and indeed for them to employ Christian chaplains.
There would seem to be therefore no legal impediment for ID to be taught in Australian schools, but of course the Australian science establishment, and presumably most science teachers, are scientific naturalists and would oppose (probably fiercely) ID being taught, or evolution criticised, in science classes. However, I cannot see how they could prevent the controversy being taught in other school classes, or out of hours on school premises. A factor in favour of ID being taught in State schools is that there has been a lot of criticism from the Prime Minister down of State school education being value-less, with parents increasingly sending their children to private Christian schools. If State schools teachers opposed the teaching of ID, then that would reinforce criticisms of State schools' `godless' lack of values.
There were some more letters, including my own, mainly supportive of ID, in the same paper, and I will scan and post them next.
Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
"Problems of Evolution"
THE WEST AUSTRALIAN THURSDAY, AUGUST 11, 2005 9
Creation theory for classroom
CHRIS JOHNSON CANBERRA
Education Minister Brendan Nelson gave the nod yesterday for a form of creationism to be taught in schools alongside the theory of evolution.
He also repeated his demand that parents must be given more extensive information about the schools their children attended, so as not to be forced to choose schools based on the colour of uniforms.
Addressing the National Press Club, Dr Nelson said the controversial new theory known as intelligent design had enough merit to be included in the school curriculum.
The theory is receiving growing support in the United States, with the blessing of President George Bush. But Dr Nelson said he didn't believe it should replace scientific lessons about the origins of life.
"But do I think that parents in schools should have the opportunity if they wish to for students also to be exposed to this and be taught about it? Yes, I think that's fine," he said.
Intelligent Design does not provide a literal interpretation of the Bible but does suggest the role of a creator.
Dr Nelson has met those advocating the theory and said he had no great problems with it being taught.
But talking tough over school funding, the Minister insisted that Federal money would be withheld unless more information about schools was provided to parents.
How schools and students were performing in comparison to each other was vital information parents should have, he said.
But he did not want to go down the path of the British education system which provides online information to parents about the ethnic and socio-economic make-up of each school.
"I certainly wouldn't want to go that far," Dr Nelson said.
"But we have put conditions on school funding because for the first time, before handing money over to government and non-government school providers, we've said that certain conditions must be met - and one of them is that the performance of the school actually has to be made available to the parents.
"Too many parents in this country are forced to choose a school on the basis of the colour of the uniforms and the tidiness of the grounds when what really counts is what happens in the classroom."
Dr Nelson stressed that in addition to the performance numbers of students being made available, teacher accountability must be recorded. "Teacher attendance is part of it,"
'Too many parents are forced to choose a school based on the colour of the uniforms.' he said. "They will also publish the qualifications of the teachers, their participation in their ongoing training and how much money is spent at the school level on that teacher-training."
The Government's conditions have set Dr Nelson at odds with his State counterparts, but he insisted there was no option if the schools wanted Federal money.
As a condition of funding, schools will have to make available information including literacy and numeracy performance in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 and how they compare with the previous year; how many Years 10 and 12 students don't finish; what proportion of students went on to university and what value-adding the school provides for a student's education.
Dr Nelson said he was determined to drive a policy of plain language in reporting to parents using A, B, C, D or E rankings.
(c) 2005 West Australian Newspapers Limited All Rights Reserved.