Saturday, October 06, 2007

British teachers 'fear evolution lessons' because of Muslims

The teaching of evolution is becoming increasingly difficult in UK schools because of the rise of creationism, a leading scientist is warning. Head of science at London's Institute of Education Professor Michael Reiss says some teachers, fearful of entering the debate, avoid the subject totally. This could leave pupils with gaps in their scientific knowledge, he says.

Prof Reiss says the rise of creationism is partly down to the large increase in Muslim pupils in UK schools. He said: "The number of Muslim students has grown considerably in the last 10 to 20 years and a higher proportion of Muslim families do not accept evolutionary theory compared with Christian families. "That's one reason why it's more of an issue in schools."

Prof Reiss estimates that one in 10 people in the UK now believes in creationism - whether it be based on the Biblical story or one in the Koran. Many more teachers he met at scientific meetings were telling him they now encountered more pupils who believed in literal interpretations of these religious texts, he said. "The days have long gone when science teachers could ignore creationism when teaching about origins."

Instead, teachers should tackle the issue head-on, whilst trying not to alienate students by dismissing their beliefs out of hand, he argues in a new book. "While it is unlikely that they will help students who have a conflict between science and their religious beliefs to resolve the conflict, good science teaching can help them to manage it - and to learn more science. "By not dismissing their beliefs, we can ensure that these students learn what evolutionary theory really says - and give everyone the understanding to respect the views of others," he added.

His book; Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism, gives science teachers advice on how to deal with the "dilemma". He supports new government guidelines which say creationism should not be discussed in science classes unless it is raised by pupils. But Prof Reiss argues that there is an educational value in comparing creationist ideas with scientific theories like Darwin's theory of evolution because they demonstrate how science, unlike religious beliefs, can be tested. The scientist, who is also a Church of England priest, adds that any teaching should not give the impression that creationism and the theory of evolution are equally valid scientifically. "They are not," he said.

Dr Hilary Leevers, of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said science teachers would be teaching evolution not creationism and so should not need a book to tell them how to "delicately handle controversy between a scientific theory and a belief". "The author suggests that science teachers cannot ignore creationism when teaching origins, but the opposite is true," she said. "Science teachers are there to teach the scientific theory of evolution. If a student initiates discussion about creationism in a science lesson, it provides an opportunity for the teacher to discuss how it differs from a scientific theory.

"Further discussion of creationism should occur in religious education as it is a belief system, not one based on science."


Some skepticism in Britain

No matter what Zac Goldsmith and David Cameron may say, there is one corner of the Conservative party that is forever sceptical about global warming. That corner gathered in a small studio above the Grand Theatre in Blackpool last night, where the Freedom Association was holding a meeting provocatively titled "Let Cooler Heads Prevail". The Freedom Association's rampant lion - or should that be lion rampant? - was on display. Delegates cooled themselves with climate-sceptic fans. They were thoroughly enjoying themselves.

"You either believe it or you don't," Roger Helmer, the eurosceptic MEP, told them. "And in my case, I don't!" Cheers. "This whole issue has got completely out of hand. It has become a new religion. You have to believe it. If you do not believe it, you are a heretic. They would like to burn us at the stake - using recycled faggots!"

Zac Goldsmith had apparently criticised him for not reading the Quality of Life report. Well, he wasn't going to! It was 500 pages long and a waste of paper!

Helmer introduced Russell Lewis, the former director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs. That meant we could trust him, Mr Helmer explained. "My real reason for coming here tonight is to cheer you up," Lewis told delegates. "I have two messages. First, I am sceptical about the whole official theory of global warming. Second, I think if it does happen it will do us a world of good."

One by one, he exposed the myths peddled by the environmental movement. The rise in temperature over recent years was "tiny - well within the range of natural variation". Scientists were using thermometers on land rather than in the sea, and everyone knew that urban development raised temperatures. Antarctica and Greenland were only melting around the edges - in the middle, the ice was getting thicker.

The population of polar bears was "exploding" and had risen by 25% in the past decade. As for penguins, they are "very adaptable creatures, and certain penguins are flourishing in the tropical Galapagos islands." Global warming would not increase malaria: it used to be endemic in Westminster.

"It is not the planet that is in danger. It is freedom... Don't worry about global warming - it's a myth," he concluded. The audience roared.

Next up was Iain Murray of the Competitiveness Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. Murray took a more measured view. Using the estimates in the Stern report, he explained the impact that cutting emissions would have on the GDP of developed countries and the prospects of poorer nations. "Half a century of stagnation, not just for the US ... If you still think that we need to do something about global warming," he said, "don't go down the route of emissions reduction."

Needless to say, no one in the shadow cabinet would be seen dead at a Freedom Association meeting. The official debates happen at the Climate Clinic, a series of events sponsored by companies like Ecover. Last night's was dedicated to a controversial report by a number of environmental organisations, including Greenpeace, the RSPB and Friends of the Earth, which criticised all three parties' green policies....


British food Fascism failing

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's school dinners revolution, aimed at encouraging healthy eating habits in children, has backfired, British inspectors say. Oliver was the driving force behind a campaign to have junk food banned from school canteens and to teach pupils about the benefits of a healthy diet. But Ofsted, the government body responsible for inspecting British schools, said fewer pupils were eating school meals in 19 of the 27 primary and secondary schools they visited to assess the success of the healthy eating push. Some pupils felt the healthier meals were too expensive while others simply preferred to go to the chip shop at lunchtime, Ofsted said.

Ofsted's assessment comes a year after new rules came into force banning school canteens from selling junk food in the wake of Oliver's TV campaign, Jamie's School Dinners. "The take-up of school meals had fallen overall since the introduction of the new food standards," the report said. "Reasons for this decline are complex and include lack of consultation with pupils and parents about the new arrangements in schools; poor marketing of the new menus; the high costs for low-income families and a lack of choice in what is offered. "If this trend continues, the impact of the Government's food policies will have limited effect. "Several headteachers believed that the cost of a meal was prohibitive."

The report said some pupils were simply taking unhealthy packed lunches into school or going shopping for junk food. One teenager quipped to inspectors that he had "become far fitter as a result of regular walks to the nearby chip shop", the report said.

Children's Minister Kevin Brennan said schools should take notice of Ofsted's report, and the issue of childhood obesity was not going to go away. "We are in this for the long-term," he said. "Cutting childhood obesity and unhealthy eating needs the backing of every local authority, school, teacher and parent in England. "We are urging schools to make the most of our STG477 million ($A1.1 billion) investment in raising nutritional standards and keeping prices down."



1.3 million employees and less than 70,000 of them doctors. Blind Freddy could see what is wrong with that. But there are none so blind as those who will not see

Take a blank canvas. Talk to 1,500 NHS staff. Spend 12 weeks thinking hard. And then come up with the ideas you first thought of. That, in a nutshell, is a brutal but not inaccurate summary of the review of the NHS by Lord Darzi of Denham, published yesterday. Astonishingly, it identified as problems exactly the same things the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary have themselves been talking about for months: access to family doctors out of hours (Gordon Brown) and MRSA (Alan Johnson). Surely, in a system that now costs 90 billion a year, employs 1.3 million people and treats a million patients a day, Lord Darzi might have identified issues not already flagged up in a hundred tired political speeches?

To a tiny degree, he did. He correctly points out the glacial slowness of the NHS to adopt new ideas or buy into new technologies. He then goes on to propose the wrong solution, a centralised health innovation council to “champion” change. Such bodies have come and gone as swiftly as the dew on an autumn morning. Remember the NHS Modernisation Agency? Or the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement? (One of them is still around, not that you’d notice.) In a document that says local NHS organisations have the responsibility for change, Lord Darzi has proposed another top-down, London-based, all-the-usual-names body in a misguided attempt to impose it.

The NHS does not change because the incentives are not there. Managers who innovate take risks. If they go wrong, cost money, or produce headlines in the newspapers, the Department of Health can be relied upon to provide no backing. The trick of survival as a NHS manager is to change nothing and balance the books.

Lord Darzi also correctly identified stroke as a disease where the NHS has failed, miserably. He might have added allergy, liver diseases, osteoporosis or a host of other equally deserving conditions. The system is fundamentally unresponsive unless it is kicked. And kicking is no longer in fashion, so heaven knows how change will occur in future. His report also mentions health inequalities, which are widespread and growing. But both he and Alan Johnson appear to believe that such inequalities can be put right by a greater provision of healthcare.

Of course it is right that everybody should have roughly the same chance of seeing a GP. But evidence over many years shows that the actual provision of doctors has little impact on inequalities. In the new NHS, which is supposed to be evidence-based, Lord Darzi has ignored all this evidence, which points to the need for better education, nutrition and antenatal care, among other things. Instead we will have GP clinics open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to satisfy the Prime Minister, while the gaps between rich and poor in expectation of life continue to widen.

Perhaps the most depressing thing of all is not what the report says, but the reaction to it. Almost all the great and the good who have backed every half-baked intitiative for the past decade emerged to say how pleased they were. Not only has the NHS stifled good healthcare; it has bought off those who are supposed to act as candid friends, and made them complicit in perpetuating its failures.


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