That Creationist science quiz

Phil Plait has a pretty good jeremiad on the infamous Creationist 4th-grade science quiz:

The thing that gets me is not the issue of legality here, nor necessarily who is promoting it. What really makes my heart sink is the reality that this is actually being taught to young children. Kids are natural scientists; they want to see and explore and categorize and ask “why?” until they understand everything. And we, as adults, as caretakers, have a solemn responsibility to nurture that impulse and to answer them in as honest a way as possible, encouraging them to seek more answers—and more questions—themselves. That’s how we learn.

But this? This isn’t learning. It’s indoctrination. It’s the exact opposite of inquisitiveness: it’s children being told what the creationists want the answer to be, despite the evidence. And it’s not just that these children are being told something that’s wrong; it’s that they are also told to simply accept it and deny the actual evidence they come across.

If you haven’t seen the quiz, you can go to Snopes, among other places, for details. Snopes is of course the cataloguer and debunker of urban legends. They have a piece about this because, when the quiz first started circulating, lots of people thought it was a hoax. It always seemed utterly plausible to me that it was real, unfortunately.

In addition to lamenting, Plait provides some links to useful resources about evolution and creationism, including one from Nature called 15 Evolutionary Gems, which I hadn’t seen before and which looks good.

On a related note, Eugenie Scott, longtime head of the National Center for Science Education, is retiring. Plait again:

Genie has been a tireless fighter against nonsense; for years as head of NCSE she kept up with and kept after people who try to wedge religious indoctrination into schools. Whether it was creationism or its mutant offspring Intelligent Design, she was always there, in the courtroom or on stage or writing about it. The NCSE is a shining example of what needs to be done in this never-ending affair.

That reminds me that I haven’t sent any money to the NCSE for a while. I’m going to do that. You should too.

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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

4 thoughts on “That Creationist science quiz”

  1. Dig (no pun intended) the “dinosaur sculptor” mentioned at Snopes.

    Frankly, I am surprised by the surprise. What does a parent sending a child to a “Christian school” expect?

    The basic problem in the States is that it is perfectly legal to send children to such schools, or to homeschool them.

  2. Not all Christian schools are like this, by any means. A relatively small number of US Christians believe in hard-core fundamentalism of the sort that leads to young-Earth creationism. (Not nearly a small enough, number, of course!) For instance, something like 2 million US students attend Roman Catholic schools, which teach sound science (not Creationism). Many more Christian schools, particularly those run by mainline Protestant denominations (Episcopal, Methodist, many Lutherans, etc.) are similarly free from the Creationist plague.

    The parent who circulated this quiz had no idea that his child was attending a school that taught Creationism and is now removing his child from the school. It’s possible that he was negligent in not knowing what sort of school this was, but it’s also possible that he had no reason to suspect a problem. Poking around the school’s Web site would no doubt reveal the answer: if it’s an overtly nutty fundamentalist school, it should be easy to tell. But I haven’t done this.

    On the broader question of whether parents should be allowed to send students to such schools, personally, I would not outlaw private schools (including religious ones), but I would have the government regulate them much more closely than it does: there should be national standards about what the schools teach, and these standards should be enforced. The same goes for home-schooling: if parents want to do it, I’d let them, but with significant oversight to make sure that what they’re being taught is reasonable.

    As a practical political matter, that’s not going to happen in the US, of course, but we can dream.

  3. Update to my last comment: as Snopes notes, the school in question refers to “creation-based” science lessons in its Web page. So if the father really was surprised about this, he was negligent.

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