The BCSE, Educational Incompetence, and the Nazis!
(This article was first published on my blog in November 2006, and details the lack of knowledge about the UK education system on behalf of those representing and lobbying as experts on it).
The title for this article is half-joking. It's the stuff of legend that on the Internet, in any disagreement one side will eventually end up being compared with Hitler. But we'll come back to that...
The BCSE's Educational Experience
This article is a real two-parter. Many others are reasonably self-contained. This time, you'll need part 2to give you the whole picture.
Today we're going to follow up a previous story, which demonstrated pretty conclusively the BCSE's total educational incompetence. What other words could we use to describe what we saw? No head-teachers, teachers or experienced educationalists at all within the membership; no knowledge of the National Curriculum's contents - the BCSE's internal discussions instead had to focus on the question "What is the National Curriculum, anyway?". It takes quite some bravado to begin lobbying the Department of Education in the name of a "Centre for Science Education" when you're that badly lacking in standing.
In this article, we're going to carry on shining light on the BCSE's competence, or lack thereof, to speak about education. And in doing so, we're going to learn some disturbing things about how these activists' minds work.
At the bottom of the front page of the BCSE's website, there's a nice little quote. Here it is:
BCSE believes in the tools for everyone to think for themselves - Science, Education and Reason - and the outcome – Democracy, Pluralism, Freedom and Righteousness.
Now, I think that everyone thinking for themselves sounds pretty good. I don't understand how it agrees with the BCSE's campaigns to prevent schoolchildren hearing about scientific criticisms of Darwinism, or about other scientific models. But that's another question.
Our Question Is...
My topic today is home-schooling. Today in the United Kingdom, thousands of parents have made the decision that the best education for their children is one within the context of the home. Rather than delegating the work of education to others, they've decided to educate their children themselves.
Now personally, I think that is a very noble decision. After all, nobody knows children better than their own parents. There are of course some advantages in having a class full of peers and a trained teacher. However, the advantage of a personal tuition from those who love you more than anyone in the whole world has got to take some beating. And the results bear that out - home-schoolers routinely out-perform their peers by a good distance.
Well, whether you'd go for that option or not, I think you'll agree that it's a valid option, and one for which those taking it are to be admired. Admired their dedication to their children, and for their willingness to go against the grain and to take on such an undertaking, if not anything else.
And might we not expect that as lovers of free-thinking, "democracy, pluralism, freedom and righteousness", the BCSE are certainly going to agree?
Well, not exactly. Quite the opposite, in fact.
You see, from the BCSE's point of view, home-schooling is rather dangerous. The problem is, that if parents are allowed to give instruction to their children, then they might fail to correctly indoctrinate them in materialism and Darwinism. Gasp! The horror!
In their discussion of this problem, the BCSE's ignorance of how the education systems in our country work again comes to the fore. We'll follow that discussion, giving our comments along the way. I believe that this will give my readers an interesting insight into the way these would-be "science educators" think.
In The Beginning
Here's how it began. When the BCSE began discussing precisely what their aims were, the topic of home-schooling came up. Here's Ian Lowe, making first mention of the issue (BlackShadow Yahoo group message 1545):
I typed up a reasonable extension of the "what do we want" post, with bits about home schooling, private faith schools (especially in the light of Patrick Henry College) etc. I am *not* prepared to talk tactics in a forum that any fundie can read.
For the uninitiated, Patrick Henry College is a US college that caters especially for those who have been previously home-schooled. (Home schooling in the US is a major success story having been pioneered mostly by Christians, it is now fairly widespread as people from all over society have seen its results). Because Patrick Henry College is also based on Christian principles and is also highly successful, its existence is a major focus for the displeasure of hardline secularists and atheists in the US. That Ian flags it up is another clue to what drives him (and you'll notice that word "fundie" again - again identifying for us if Ian is really concerned about science, or if it's something else). Only militant atheists talk about Patrick Henry College. The rest of the world is just happy that successful colleges exist.
Note, then, that Ian is concerned about both home-schooling and faith schools. He's not willing to spell out his concerns publicly. However, whatever it is he wants to say, it is obviously that in Ian's mind the plurality that such schools bring to society, and the freedom that parents enjoy to use them, are not necessarily good things.
Responses to Ian
In response to Ian, Timothy Chase replied (BlackShadow Yahoo group message 1547):
Let them teach religion as a matter of individual freedom, but test them on science and demand science standards - real science standards.
Now, you'll see that Timothy is a generous man. He's willing to allow parents to teach their own children whatever they please - as long as it's within the realm of "religion".
However, on "science", Timothy demands testing. But what kind of testing does Timothy have in mind? Presumably not just the usual A-Levels and GCSEs - children already take those tests. Timothy seems to have in mind something more. It looks to me like he's suggesting that the state monitor parents' instruction of their own children, to see if conforms sufficiently with Timothy's brand of hard-line Darwinism-only approach to education or not.
Whether I'm reading Timothy rightly or not, that's certainly what Ian seems to believe, because his was the next significant contribution. Here it is; it's worth reading twice, and reading carefully (BlackShadow Yahoo group message 2052):
I would think that we should be moving ... to say that creationism in *ANY* science classroom, whether private or state funded is the problem.
Basically, I am concerned by the appearance of more private faith schools or US style "home schools" as a response to squeezing them in the public sector.
I don't think academies are the problem per se - allowing fundies into a position of control over curricula is the problem, and that happens in academies, private schools and home schooling "cooperatives".
Did you get that? According to Ian, there is a fundamental problem with parents educating their own children. The fundamental problem is that those parents may teach their children a faith that atheist Ian does not approve of. There is a "fundamental problem" of parents who cannot be trusted to uncritically endorse Darwinism in the way that Ian prefers. If parents are given the liberty to gather together in home schooling "cooperatives", then some of those parents may be "fundies" - who can't be relied upon to teach their children the right thing.
That talk about "liberty" and "pluralism" is beginning to sound a little hollow, isn't it? Plurality - as long as it doesn't mean people of faith! Liberty - but not for believers! What Ian doesn't seem to realise is that it is precisely this kind of talk which is driving people towards home-schooling. If state-schooling is going to be influenced by people like Ian, then that's pretty worrying!
Reaction to Ian
But is Ian a crazed lone ranger, who immediately got reeled in by the saner members of the group? Err, no. In direct response to the above quote, Michael Brass replied (BlackShadow Yahoo group message 2053):
Unless anyone objects, I strongly recommend that the above two principles are the bedrock upon which this list (and organisation) rests. If such agreement is forthcoming, then I believe we have made the first step towards creating a charter that everyone can be unified behind.
Did you get that? Far from saying, "Whoah, Ian! You're suggesting forbidding parents to instruct their own children as they see fit? Have you gone stark raving bonkers?", Michael actually suggests making Ian's ideas the "bedrock" of the BCSE's operation. Wow!
At this point, one lone voice of sanity does intervene, for the first and last time. It comes from an anonymous contributor, who only signs off as "MBB". Quite reasonably, he proposes as follows (BlackShadow Yahoo group message 2054):
I would suggest being very careful what you campaign against.
What people do in their own homes on their own time with their own money is not, IMHO, our business.
Now, in normal circumstances, I'd expect people to say "Of course! What were we thinking of! We can't propose setting up the thought police! Parents can say to their own children whatever they like! Whoah, I'm glad you stopped us there. We were going to do something that would make us look really stupid!" At first, Roger Stanyard did indeed seem to be moving in the right direction, because he interjected (BlackShadow Yahoo group message 2058):
"Mikey, I'm confused as to what you are saying here. I assume that you don't mean that we should oppose private daith [sic] schools or home schooling because I can't see how we could."
In reply, Michael gave us his explanation his understanding of home education and how it works. Now, the posts get a big long at this point, but Michael's basic understanding is as follows. It's important to understand, because it is then accepted by the rest of the BCSE group, who then compose their charter based upon it. If you wish for a fully copy of the post in which he outlines this view, ask me (BlackShadow Yahoo group message 2059).
According to Michael Brass, then:
Anybody who has a basic knowledge of UK education laws will recognise that Michael is about as wrong as wrong can be.
The actual situation is as follows:
Being an allegedly credible body of educators that is fit to influence MPs and other public bodies, you'd think that the other members of the BCSE would know that, and jump in to point it out. No such thing happens. What does that tell you?
What does actually happen, is the subject of part 2...
(The BCSE have taken the BlackShadow Yahoo group off-line so that it can no longer be publicly viewed - but anyone wishing to determine the accuracy of my quotations can ask me for a copy.)