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Creationism in Canada: Part 4

July 9th, 2013 4 comments
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Read part one, two, and three.

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, Today

It becomes clear in reviewing some of Canada’s provincial and territorial curriculum guidelines that the issue of origin of life is far from settled.  Perhaps, most relevant is the fact that many curriculum outcomes begin by acknowledging that students and parents may have questions or oppose the scientific theories being put forth.  Some jurisdictions appear to concisely outline how these concerns should be addressed, while others leave much room for interpretation.  To date, however, British Columbia is the only jurisdiction to have an explicit policy banning creationist instruction.

On the topic of evolution, change, and diversity, the New Brunswick Ministry of Education’s curriculum guide states (bolding maintained):

“By the consideration of questions generated by students and teachers and the discussion of issues raised, various learning and assessment activities will meet specific curriculum outcomes within this section. The main focus of this unit falls within the realm of scientific inquiry and observation as it transposes from a historical to modern perspective on the scientific thought and techniques related to evolution, change and diversity.” (New Brunswick Department of Education, 2008, p. 13)

While the stated focus of the curriculum suggests that only scientific theories be considered, the verbiage does not explicitly omit theories that some Christian associations have claimed as scientific, such as those coming from Intelligent Design (ID) proponents.

In Ontario, the science curriculum is quite dense in terms of policies, procedures, and components.  One interesting section discusses “Antidiscrimination Education and Science.”  In it, the Ministry discusses “cultural sensitivities” regarding participation in various science classroom activities:

“There may be cultural sensitivities for some students in areas such as the use of biological specimens. For example, a number of religions have prohibitions regarding pigs. Although it is impossible to anticipate every contingency, teachers should be open to adjusting their instruction, if feasible, when concerns are brought to their attention.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2008, p. 39)

The implications of this clause appear to leave room for the possibility of creation-science instruction, or at the very least, the forgoing of evolutionary instruction due to religious beliefs.  The latter is indeed the crux of many arguments for evolution education advocates who charge that Canadian students are simply not learning about evolution because teachers wish to avoid the controversy (Laidlaw, 2007).

Newfoundland and Labrador’s curriculum guideline merely provides suggestions for teachers as to how they should approach science studies (author added italics):

“Students should be aware that the topic of evolution is based on many different theories. Like all theories, there is no evidence that completely eliminates doubt. Since many of the topics relating to Earth origins, life origins, evolution, etc., may be addressed from various points of view, it is the suggested intent of this biology course to outline the topics from the scientific process approach. Teachers should be aware that many topics in biology, (and in medical research), especially evolution, may be appraised along the lines of personal value judgements, ethical assessments and religious beliefs. It should be emphasized that the purpose of learning about all views is so that the student can intellectually question each and make educated decisions about what s/he believes.” (Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Education, 2004, p. 118)

The italicized portions appear to carry the same essence as the original Origin of Life policy enacted by the Abbotsford School District.  While the above stated policy certainly doesn’t advocate equal time for creationist instruction, it does appear to permit such discussion and exploration.

For the most part, Canada’s education system seems to relegate evolution to upper year elective biology courses.  This means that the vast numbers of public high school students are graduating without ever learning about Darwin’s evolutionary theories.  Quebec is the only province to mandate elementary school teaching of evolutionary concepts (Halfnight, 2008).  Perhaps then, the critics are right.  Canada appears to draw less divisive lines between creationist and evolution instruction as is the case in the United States.

It’s important to this discussion to also point out that I’ve only surveyed the Canadian public school system.  There are many private schools across the country, most of them with strong religious ties and some of whom receive generous taxpayer subsidies, that are not necessarily bound by the same policies as those of the public system.  Similarly, across the country there are thousands of homeschooled children who are not necessarily restricted to provincial/territorial curricula.

In 2007, a group of Quebec Mennonites moved their families to a small town in Ontario.  They did so because the Quebec Ministry of Education had mandated that their small private school must adhere to the provincial curriculum, which included instruction on Darwin’s theory of evolution (Alphonso, 2007; Bergen, 2007).  As one reporter covering the story pointed out, “In Ontario, private schools are essentially seen as private businesses.  Schools […] don’t have to follow the provincial curriculum, and principals and teachers are not necessarily certified by the Ontario College of Teachers” (Alphonso, 2007, para. 5).

The Big Valley Creation Science Museum, which opened in Alberta in 2007, helps provide resources for homeschooled children whose parents want them to learn a Biblically-inspired account of the origin of life.  In a CBC televised news report covering the opening of the museum, Mrs. G. Gee was interviewed about her interest in creation-science.  Alberta’s provincial curriculum requires that evolutionary theory is taught as fact, which contravenes her family’s beliefs.  As such, The Big Valley Creation Museum allows her the opportunity “to teach her children her truth” (as quoted in Dunn, 2007).

It appears then, that creation-science is afforded a platform in education systems in various jurisdictions – albeit one not overtly supported by public institutions.  In particular, various government bodies seem to avoid taking a hard stance on the issue.  Evidence for this claim also comes from a McGill University evolution researcher who was denied funding in 2006 to examine the occurrence of creation-science instruction in Canada’s schools (Halfnight, 2008; Laidlaw, 2007).  The Social Science and Humanities Research Council, the federal body that rejected the proposal, stated that there was not “adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent design, was correct,” (as cited in Halfnight, 2008, p. 1).  Thus, creationism seems to be an issue that some government institutions would rather not bring into the public consciousness.  The refusal to fund such investigations speaks volumes to this being a hot-button topic best avoided. 

Concluding Remarks

Given Canada’s placid nature when confronted with controversial issues, it is not surprising that creation-science has been met with apathy.  Most disconcerting is that so many high school students are entering post-secondary institutions with either no knowledge or very limited knowledge of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  This is particularly worrisome for those students choosing undergraduate work in biological sciences.

It is doubtful that Canada will ever reach the polemical stratosphere of this debate that is seen in the United States.  While Canada and the United States do share a border, there are distinct differences that typify these two countries.  Canadians do not seem particularly prone to taking a hard stance on controversial issues.  Indeed, Canada seems more open to a variety of influences.  This may be why the country is often lauded for its cultural mosaic.  This seemingly more tolerant nature could then allow for a variety of viewpoints to be permitted in public settings, including those that may stem from religiously-motivated ones.  Examining the Abbotsford School District creation-science controversy seems to support the notion that Canadians don’t rally as a united front on issues that create controversy.  Rather, the tendency is for more localized protests by small grass-roots organizations.  Perhaps, then, this is why the creationist controversy in British Columbia received scant nation-wide media attention.

In addition, many jurisdictions in Canada offer parents the choice to provide their children with a science education that more appropriately aligns with their religious beliefs – despite the unscientific nature of those beliefs.  Private schools and homeschooling options are readily available across the nation.  In these settings, education is shaped by families and private organizations that clearly have an agenda – one which is most often rooted in religious ideology.  By allowing private institutions and individuals to shape education, Canada’s public institutions are still able to maintain secularity, while also affording its citizens certain rights and freedoms.  This seems to be the Canadian way.

The main crux of this issue though, is one in which Canada may be poorly represented on a global stage in the future.  If young Canadians are not keeping adequate pace with advancements in scientific theories that are widely accepted by the community, then they will invariably not be accepted as legitimate and relevant contributors to that community.  This may mean the loss of research and other scientific pursuits that can benefit not only Canadians, but also the wider global community.  Further, given the multitude of religious views in the world, it seems wise to avoid a particular theological brand of origin of life theory.  This is poignantly relevant for a country, such as Canada, that prides itself on cultural diversity.

Thus, Canadians should not passively allow religious ideology to inappropriately shape institutions and realms of which religion cannot adequately resolve.  Science classrooms should not be relegated to the domain of theology.  By ensuring that citizens are given appropriate opportunities to study the sciences, as they are generally accepted by scientific communities around the world, Canadians will be poised to continue to make great contributions to the industry.  In parallel, by also allowing citizens to continue to pursue sacred knowledge – outside the context of science classrooms – Canada will also be poised to continue as a country that values diversity and freedom of religion.  Admittedly, this is a fine balancing act.  Indeed, it is one that will continue to require refinement, particularly as the scientific paradigm evolves and concepts of religiosity change.  Silence concerning such issues is not an option.  Canadians, as a whole, need to be more actively engaged with the education of its youth and the future prospects Canada’s public school system will afford them on the global stage.

M. xo

Suggested viewings & readings:

References

Alphonso, C. (2007, September 4). Quebec Mennonites moving to Ontario for faith-based teaching. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/quebec-mennonites-moving-to-ontario-for-faith-based-teaching/article1081765/

Bergen, R. (2007, September 1). Education laws prompt Mennonites to pack bags; Quebec residents move to Ontario so kids can be taught creationism. Times – Colonist. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/348191325?accountid=9894

Dunn, C. (2007, June 5) A Canadian home for creationism. CBC News. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8hL2Vw1klI

Halfnight, D. (2008, September). Where’s Darwin? The United Church Observer. Retrieved from http://www.ucobserver.org/ethics/2008/09/wheres_darwin/

Laidlaw, S. (2007, April 2). Creationism debate continues to evolve. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/life/2007/04/02/creationism_debate_continues_to_evolve.html

New Brunswick Department of Education. (2008). Daily Teaching Guide Biology 122/121 [Curriculum Guide]. Retrieved from http://www.gnb.ca/0000/publications/curric/Biology122-121.pdf

Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Education. (2004). Biology 3201 Curriculum Guide. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov.nl.ca/edu/k12/curriculum/guides/science/bio3201/outcomes.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2008). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 11 and 12 Science. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/2009science11_12.pdf

 

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Creationism in Canada: Part 3

July 8th, 2013 2 comments
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Read part one and two.

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, 1990s

In 1992, letters were circulated to Canadian school boards from Creation Science Association of Canada (CSAC) director, Robert Grieve, requesting that presentations be allowed in classrooms from creation science associations.  It was brought to the attention of the media that CSAC had been making routine presentations in Abbotsford schools for a number of years (Barker, 2004).  Several British Columbia news outlets published editorials, letters, and stories regarding the now hot topic of Abbotsford’s Origin of Life policy.  Most of these pieces were resoundingly negative.  Members of the public also began weighing in on the issue by addressing it with government officials.  The 1992 provincial Minister of Education, Anita Hagen, addressed some of these concerns with passive interest by suggesting that the policy be reviewed.  Interestingly, the Minister never formally addressed the Abbotsford School Board regarding the policy (Chahal, 2002).  Since no formal intervention was being carried out, a group of teachers and parents aided by a science teacher from outside the district, Scott Goodman began to covertly investigate the policy.  This examination led the Abbotsford Teachers’ Association to issue a request to the board to review and rescind the policy.  This request was ignored (Barker, 2004).

The Abbotsford creationism case reached its zenith in 1995.  It began in March when the local Teachers’ Association and the Organization of Advocates in Support of Integrity in Science Education (OASIS) represented by Scott Goodman, filed an appeal with then Education Minister, Art Charbonneau (Barker, 2004; British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 1995).  In an interview with the press, Goodman argued that the appeal was not only about Christian fundamentalist attacks on science, but also concerning religious freedom and the government maintaining its secularity (Wood, 1995).  The Minister agreed with Goodman and the Teachers’ Association and sent a letter requesting assurances from the board that they were adhering to the provincial curriculum.  At the time of this request, the Abbotsford School Board was chaired by Trinity Western University professor, John Sutherland.  The Minister’s requests were not directly acknowledged, but Sutherland was vocal about the issue in local media outlets.  He accused the Minister of religious prejudice by attempting to remove creationism from the district (Chahal, 2002).

The board failed to respond appropriately to the Minister.  Charbonneau sent a second letter.  This time the letter set out distinct actions for the board to take and recommendations put forth by the Minister.  The board was directed to amend its Origin of Life Policy by June 16th, 1995 and cease creation-science instruction in science classes (Barker, 2004; Chahal, 2002; Todd, 1995; Wood, 1995).  In an interview, Charbonneau suggested that the Board was, “trying to force teachers to put a religious theory on the same level as evolution in a science class,” (as cited in Wood, 2003, p. 14).

Sutherland rigorously defended the autonomy of the board and its position by making several statements in the local media.  His sentiments were, by and large, shared with many members of the board and community who felt that scientific dogmatism was hijacking the curriculum (Byfield & Byfield, 1995; Chahal, 2002).  Sutherland countered accusations that the board was attempting to bring theology into science classrooms by suggesting that learning different theories allowed students to hone critical thinking skills (Barker, 2004), and that only alternative ‘scientific’ theories were presented to students (Todd, 1995).  Sutherland also pointed out that the community supported creation-science instruction (Barker, 2004; Sweet, 1997; Todd, 1995; Wood, 1995). In an interview following the controversy, Sutherland mused that:

[He] “would have been happy if students would simply have taken a look in biology class at the scientific data and the underlying hypotheses, including alternative schemes, and how different groups interpret the scientific data. Nobody disputes the scientific data. It’s the hypothesis that you use to explain the data that is under dispute, and the random, purposeless, evolutionary hypotheses are as untestable and as philosophical as any other. They’re a belief system. So where else but in science class could you look at scientific belief systems?” (as cited in Sweet, 1997, p. 210)

Despite objections to the Minister’s request, the Abbotsford School Board moved forward and drafted a new policy.  The draft of the new Origin of Life policy diverted from some of the propositions that Charbonneau had offered in his second letter to the board.  While it removed any reference to Divine creation, it appeared to leave a loop hole by allowing the teaching of alternative theories, without reference to what those theories were.  The revised policy read in part:

“Teachers may find that the evolutionary perspective of modern biology conflicts with the personal beliefs of some students; therefore, when teaching this topic in the classroom, teachers should explain to students that science is only one way of learning about life, and that other explanations have been put forth besides that of biological science. […] In order to promote critical thinking skills, students shall be encouraged to discuss the scientific pros and cons of the alternative theories without being criticized for their opinions.  Where other viewpoints are presented or discussed, teachers are encouraged to be aware of and to respect the personal beliefs of their students without promoting, through instruction, any one belief system.  This discussion would include the evidence/information both for and against the theories of the origins of our universe and life on our planet.” (as cited in Chahal, 2002, p. 138)

Despite the board’s attempts to satisfy the Minister’s request, the draft of the new policy was met with criticism.  Representatives from the BCCLA lobbied the board to disband the policy entirely, while Minister Charbonneau indicated that the policy required further clarification.  There appeared to be some concerns that the revised policy still made it possible for creation-science instruction to occur.  This seems to part of the motive for revisions to the policy.  The board had to comply with the Minister’s requests, but also wanted to satisfy the wishes of its constituency.

As the board moved forward with final revisions to the new Origin of Life policy, members of the public, from within and outside the community, began to mobilize their support of the board’s revisions.  Many of the arguments centered on their religious beliefs and feelings of Christianity being marginalized (Chahal, 2002).  Other supporters claimed that the media was polarizing and sensationalizing a non-issue.  Even some students in the district suggested that the issue was being blown out of proportion.  Yet, others who were firmly on the side of the Ministry suggested that fundamentalist Christian groups active in the region were attempting to impose their own brand of morality on others and that these tactics were not isolated to science classrooms (Wood, 1995).

With the final version of the new Origin of Life policy in place, the board forwarded it to Charbonneau and also obtained legal counsel to ensure the policy adhered to the School Act.  In July of 1995, Minister Charbonneau formally rejected the new policy stating that it was, “vague and open to various meanings,” (as cited in Chahal, 2002, p. 149).  He further indicated that he would be forwarding specific guidelines to address the issue with all school boards in the province.  In his view, “[t]he science classroom is not a place to provide instruction or require discussion of religious dogma,” (as cited in Byfield & Byfield, 1995, p. 36).  Shortly after Charbonneau rejected the policy, the board’s legal counsel weighed in.  The Origin of Life policy contravened the School Act (Chahal, 2002).

Just in time for the start of another school year, Charbonneau informed the board of changes to the Biology 11/12 curriculum.  These changes were made to update the curriculum with respect to the School Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The updated curriculum specifically addressed creation-science theories.  A portion of the updated 2006 curriculum guideline maintains such a clause:

“Reconciling scientific discoveries (for example, in genetic engineering) and religious faith poses a particular challenge for some students. While respecting the personal beliefs of students, teachers should be careful to distinguish between knowledge based on the application of scientific methods, and religious teachings and associated beliefs such as creationism, theory of divine creation, or intelligent design theory.” (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2006, p. 10)

In addition to the aforementioned revisions, the new guidelines also made it a requirement for all curriculum components to be taught in grade 11 and 12 in order for a student to qualify for graduation (Chahal, 2002).  The board was ordered by the Minister to swiftly revise its policy in accordance with the updated curriculum or face penalty of dismissal and replacement by Ministry-appointed representatives (Sweet, 1997).

On September 14, 1995, the Abbotsford School Board drafted a new Origin of Life policy (author added italics):

“Teachers may find that the evolutionary perspectives of modern biology conflict with the personal beliefs of some of their students; therefore, when teaching this topic in the classroom, teachers should explain to students who have misgivings, that science is only one of the ways of learning about life. Other explanations have been put forth besides those of biological science. However, other viewpoints which are not derived from biological science are not part of the Biology 11/12 curriculum. Biology teachers will instruct only in the Ministry of Education curriculum. In the interest of critical thinking, however, it is vital that the teacher assure all students that they are entitled to have their views respected. Respect is best shown by allowing for an expression of those views, provided that any discussion or research is consistent with the content and objectives of the Biology 11/12 curriculum—that is, that they deal only with scientific evidence.” (School District No. 34, 1996, para. 2-3)

This policy, which was formally approved in early 1996, is still incorporated into the curriculum guide today.  It, and the aforementioned curriculum guide, are perhaps one of the most concrete and direct guides concerning science curricula and creation-science theories in the Canadian public education system.  It appears then, that the mid-1990s saw the end of discussion surrounding creationism in Canada’s public schools.

In tomorrow’s concluding post, I’ll explore Creationism in Canada’s public schools today by exploring some provincial education curriculum guidelines. 

M. xo

For more voices in this debate, check out:

References

Barker, J. (2004). Creationism in Canada. In S. Coleman & L. Carlin (Eds.), The cultures of creationism (pp. 85-108). Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.

British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (1995). Comments on the “creation science” movement in British Columbia. Retrieved from http://bccla.org/our_work/comments-on-the-creation-science-movement-in-british-columbia/

British Columbia Ministry of Education (2006). Biology 11 and 12 Integrated Resource Package 2006.  [Program of Studies].  Retrieved from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/pdfs/sciences/2006biology1112.pdf

Byfield, T., & Byfield, V. (1995, November 20). Religious dogma is banned in B.C. science classes to make way for irreligious dogma. Alberta Report/Newsmagazine, 36.

Chahal, S. S. (2002). Nation building and public education in the crossfire: An examination of the Abbotsford School Board’s 1981-1995 Origin of Life policy (Master’s Thesis). Retrieved from https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/16315

School District No. 34 – Abbotsford.  (1996). Origin of Life. [Curriculum Guide].  Retrieved from http://www.sd34.bc.ca/sites/default/files/7-140.pdf

Sweet, L. (1997). God in the classroom: The controversial issue of religion in Canada’s schools. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart Inc.

Todd, D. (1995). Abbotsford teachers want Genesis out of Biology 11 class: Creationism stays, school chair insists. The Vancouver Sun.

Wood, C. (1995). Big bang versus a big being. Maclean’s, 108(24), 14.

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Creationism in Canada: Part 2

July 3rd, 2013 3 comments
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Read part one here.

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, 1970s

Creation science instruction was quietly introduced into some British Columbia science classes in the late 1970s.  Unlike the Abbotsford case, which received considerable media and government scrutiny, other districts enacting such policies received little attention.  Indeed, scant evidence exists that creationism was ever taught in public schools.

The Mission School Board introduced creation-instruction to its classrooms in 1976 (Chahal, 2002), but there exists little evidence to support rumours that creation instruction was taking place in other schools throughout British Columbia.  Further, the policy enacted by the Mission School Board garnered much less controversy than the Abbotsford case.  It is unclear as to why one board’s policy went virtually unnoticed, while another’s in the same province created a nationwide stir – particularly given that both boards enacted their policies within a few short years of each other.

Minutes from the Abbotsford School Board show that trustees brought the issue to the table in the late 1970s, perhaps at the behest of unofficial lobbyists, including parents and pastors in the region.  There is no further documentation that corroborates what, if any, action was implemented as a result of the issue being addressed by the board; however, additional board reports on creationism in elementary and secondary schools, and evidence of the purchase of several creationist materials around this time, suggest that the board may have acted upon these unofficial requests (Chahal, 2002).  Journalist, Lois Sweet (1997), who interviewed stakeholders embroiled in the controversy, posited that the school board had merely been addressing the wishes of constituents which consisted of many members of the Mennonite and Dutch Reform Church communities. The nature as to how the Abbotsford School District’s Origin of Life Policy came to fruition remains uncertain.  It is clear, however, that strong fundamentalist Christian advocates played a role in ensuring that creation-instruction would be entrenched in the school board’s science program for more than ten years.

Creationist ‘Truth Fish’

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, 1980s

In late 1980, an Abbotsford resident, Mr. H. Hiebert, began to a campaign to have more creationist materials available to teaching staff in the district.  Feeling that his requests to the board were not satisfactorily addressed, he approached local news outlets and urged residents to make the lack of creation-instruction a concern during the upcoming election of school board trustees (Chahal, 2002).  In early 1981, the Creation Science Association of Canada (CSAC) sent provincial Education Minister, Brian Smith, a petition with over 7000 signatures from concerned citizens regarding the lack of equal time for creationist theory and evolution theory in science classrooms.  Mr. Smith responded by suggesting that both theories could be of value for students to learn (Barker, 2004; British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 1995; Chahal, 2002).  The Education Minister’s comments created little more than a ripple of controversy at the time and were forgotten as quickly as they had been mentioned.

Around this same time, the Abbotsford School Board began the first draft of its Origin of Life policy.  The policy read in part:

“In view of the fact that neither the Divine creation nor evolutionary concepts of the origin of life are capable of verification by means of scientific experimentation, and because the teaching of one view of origins to the exclusion of the other view will almost certainly antagonize those parents and/or pupils who hold to the alternative view, all teachers, when discussing and/or teaching the origin of life in the classrooms, are requested to expose students, in as objective a manner as possible, to both Divine creation and the evolutionary concepts of life’s origins, with the evidence that is presented in support of each view, and to refrain from any assertions that would set forth either view as absolute.” (as cited in Chahal, 2002, p. 50).

In 1983, a majority vote made it a requirement that teachers refrain from teaching only the theory of evolution (Barker, 2004).  Further, teachers were instructed to teach both creationist and evolution theories in a few key classes, specifically Biology 11, 12 and Social Studies 7 (British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 1995).  The application of this policy appears to be far less dramatic than the policy itself.  Textbook resources were made available to students who showed interest in creationist theories.  Many of these resources were from fundamentalist Christian organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research.  In other instances, guest speakers from CSAC were invited to present in classes.  For the most part, however, teachers either avoided the topic of origin of life altogether, or briefly mentioned that some groups contested Darwin’s theory (Barker, 2004).   Fleeting media attention was directed at the policy and its application.  Almost a decade later, Abbotsford was thrust back in the media spotlight.

Stayed tuned for part 3 of 4 in my series on Creationism in Canada.  In Part 3, I’ll explore creationism throughout the 1990’s, once again focusing on Abbotsford, B.C. The final chapter of this series will explore creationism in Canada today, including an examination of some provincial science curricula and policies pertaining to creationist instruction.  

M. xo

Images from Wikipedia

Suggested Readings:

References

Barker, J. (2004). Creationism in Canada. In S. Coleman & L. Carlin (Eds.), The cultures of creationism (pp. 85-108). Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.

British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (1995). Comments on the “creation science” movement in British Columbia. Retrieved from http://bccla.org/our_work/comments-on-the-creation-science-movement-in-british-columbia/

Chahal, S. S. (2002). Nation building and public education in the crossfire: An examination of the Abbotsford School Board’s 1981-1995 Origin of Life policy (Master’s Thesis). Retrieved from https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/16315

Sweet, L. (1997). God in the classroom: The controversial issue of religion in Canada’s schools. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart Inc.

 

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Creationism in Canada: Part 1

July 2nd, 2013 2 comments
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If you enjoy studying how religion intersects public life, then you’ve no doubt encountered the sensational headlines from the United States concerning ongoing legal battles over the teaching of creationist theories versus evolutionary theories in public school science classrooms.  Now, many Canadians may think that we’re immune to this kind of controversy, but Canadian controversies tend to be more localized.  This means that when controversy brews, it doesn’t always make national headlines.  While creationist activity may not be as sensational as that which is seen south of the border, make no mistake – we’ve had our share of “Teach the Controversy” battles.  As part of my Honours work in Religion, I decided to investigate what, if any, creationist controversies have occurred in Canada. Over the following days, I intend to take you on a historical journey of creationism in Canada.  Much of what you will read is adapted from a paper I submitted towards my degree, and since that paper is rather long, I’ve decided to break it into smaller parts.  Before I begin, let me be clear that I support religious freedom.  I have no issue with teaching creationist theories; however, I do firmly believe that creationist theories should not be taught in science classrooms.  That said, I welcome your feedback (no matter which side of the controversy you support), but please keep it respectful.  Let’s dive right in, shall we?

The Creation of Adam

Creationism in the United States: A Brief Overview

During the 1920s a small Tennessee town, Dayton, was on the cusp of financial ruin.  Local leaders and businessmen concocted a clever plan to inject some much need cash flow into the town coffers.  A recently passed state law had made it illegal for educators to teach the theory of evolution.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had advertised their intent to challenge the law by seeking out a teacher willing to be arrested for violating this new statute.  Enlisting local high school teacher, John Scopes, a group of Dayton businessmen contacted the ACLU to express interest in assisting in their legal challenge.  It was hoped that the presumed media spectacle might bring some fortune to their small town (Larson, 1997).  Beginning as an earnest attempt by civil servants to save their struggling town, the Scopes Trial became one of the most sensational and discussed trials in American history.

Scopes was found guilty and fined one hundred dollars for illegally teaching the theory of evolution – violating Tennessee’s anti-evolution statute (“America’s Difficulty”, 2009; Armenta & Lane, 2010).    It would be another four decades before these laws were repealed; however, the trial set in motion an ongoing debate about teaching evolutionary theories alongside Biblically-inspired creation accounts in science classrooms.  Since the Scopes Trial, there have been ongoing challenges in the United States regarding the validity of Darwin’s theory, but also the constitutionality of children being required to learn a theory that counters their religious beliefs.

The early years of legal challenges focused on the constitutionality of imposing religious views in public schools versus the autonomy of parents to provide an education to their children that was compatible with their own worldviews.  The inclusion of creationism in the curriculum was seen by some as a violation of the separation of church and state.  Others argued that by not providing equal time to creationist theories, religious students were being taught in an environment that was seemingly hostile to their religious beliefs. Time and time again, higher courts ruled that creationism could not be taught alongside evolution because creationism was dogmatic in nature and essentially brought religion into the public school system (Armenta & Lane, 2010).

Of Pandas and People is widely considered the first textbook on intelligent design (ID)

More recent legal challenges have shifted to focus on alternative ‘scientific’ theories rather than divinely-inspired ones.  Intelligent design (ID) has emerged from the ashes of earlier creationism challenges.  Proponents claim that ID is a valid alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution and have lobbied to have it included in science curricula.  To date, several higher courts have ruled that ID is nothing more than creationism in the guise of science (Armenta & Lane, 2010; Moore, Jensen, & Hatch, 2003).  A 2005 verdict stemming from a case that saw a group of parents challenge Pennsylvania’s Dover Area School District’s recently amended curriculum requiring ID be taught alongside evolution, suggested that ID was essentially a secularized version of creationism (Cameron, 2006).  The judge in the case sided with the parent’s group in an effort to uphold the Constitution’s separation of church and state.

Clearly, the American judicial system has repeatedly turned to the Constitution in this matter.  Due to the strict separation of church and state within the United States’ civic doctrine, it seems reasonable and feasible for this to be accomplished.  Canada, however, does not have such finite divisions between church and state entrenched in its laws (Noll, 1992).  While the Charter of Rights does provide protections to citizens, it does not explicitly outline divisions between faith and politics.  Despite this, Canadian politics do not seem to be overtly intertwined with religion.  On the surface, Canadians seem less preoccupied or concerned about religious influences on government or public institutions.  This has meant that any religious controversies, similar to those in the United States, have remained largely unnoticed.  This lack of public scrutiny has enabled religiously motivated policies to penetrate various public institutions without the similar fanfare that has greeted such policies in the United States.

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools

Profile: Abbotsford, BC

Abbotsford, British Columbia is a city located about 60 kilometers outside of Vancouver, and is the site for Canada’s most controversial creationism case.  A profile of this community depicts it as a deeply religious one in the heart of British Columbia’s Bible belt.  It is neighbour to Trinity Western University (a private conservative Christian institution), as well as a number of evangelical churches, Bible colleges, and private religious schools (Barker, 2004; Wood, 1995).  During the time of this controversy, Abbotsford’s population consisted of a large Mennonite community, many Western European immigrants, and the highest number of Christian conservatives in the province (Barker, 2004).

Historically, Abbotsford has been involved in numerous religious controversies.  In 1977, 300 students walked out of a local high school to protest the principal’s instatement of compulsory daily prayer and scripture readings.  A few years later in 1980, the Abbotsford School Board defied a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that struck down mandatory daily prayer in public schools. In 1995, the library board was accused of attempting to ban a newspaper whose target demographic was the homosexual community (Barker, 2004).  More recently, the school board has been embroiled in controversies surrounding the refusal to allow a Social Justice course to be taught at high schools due to concerns from the religious community over its content which included issues such as homophobia (“Gay-friendly course halted,” 2008).  Late last year, the school district was one of three under review for policies that allowed Gideons International to hand out Bibles to students (Steffenhagen & Baker, 2012).  The aforementioned are just some examples of the religious controversies that have taken place in the community.  It is little wonder that the community has been recognized as highly religious, or that the inclusion of creation science in public school science curricula remained largely uncontested for over a decade.

In part 2, I’ll explore creationism in Canada throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s (with a special focus on the Abbotsford creationism controversy, itself).Oh, and in case you’re wondering where I retrieved my information, you’ll find a complete reference list below.

M. xo

Suggested Readings:

 

References

America’s difficulty with Darwin. (2009, February). History Today, 59(2), 22-28.

Armenta, T. & Lane, K. E. (2010). Tennessee to Texas: Tracing the evolution controversy in public education. The Clearing House, 83, 76-79. doi:10.1080/00098651003655811

Barker, J. (2004). Creationism in Canada. In S. Coleman & L. Carlin (Eds.), The cultures of creationism (pp. 85-108). Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.

Cameron, A. (2006). An utterly hopeless muddle. The Presbyterian Record, 130(5), 18-21.

Gay-friendly course halted by Abbotsford school board. (2008, September 21). The Vancouver Sun.  Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=b02d8037-a563-417a-9cd5-31146a42fb6e

Larson, E. J. (1997). Summer for the gods: The Scopes trial and America’s continuing debate over science and religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Moore, R., Jensen, M., & Hatch. J. (2003). Twenty questions: What have the courts said about the teaching of evolution and creationism in public schools? BioScience, 53(8), 766-771.

Noll, M. A. (1992). A history of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Steffenhagen, J., & Baker, R. (2012, November 8). Humanist wants Abbotsford School District scrutinized for Bible distribution. Abbotsford Times. Retrieved from http://www.abbotsfordtimes.com/news/Humanists+want+Abbotsford+School+District+scrutinized+Bible+distribution/7520217/story.html

Wood, C. (1995). Big bang versus a big being. Maclean’s, 108(24), 14.

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Morgentaler and Abortion in Canada

May 30th, 2013 No comments
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Yesterday, Canadians across the country were either mourning the loss of a highly influential man or praying for his soul.  That’s the kind of divisiveness Dr. Henry Morgentaler had on Canadians.  He was either revered or reviled for his contributions to Canadian society.  In case you’re wondering what the big deal is, Morgentaler is widely considered the man who initiated changes to Canada’s abortion laws.  He began his crusade in the sixties by opening up Canada’s first abortion clinic.  He also lobbied government to strike down the then existing laws that prohibited women from having control over their reproduction.  For decades, Morgentaler fought the system, during which time he was incarcerated, harassed, threatened, and attacked.

Canada’s history on abortion law is long and contentious.  The law was first enacted in 1892 when parliament passed legislation that prohibited “abortion as well as the sale, distribution, and advertising of contraceptives.” It was almost a century later, in 1988, that the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s abortion laws.   To date, there have been several failed attempts to legislate abortion in Canada.  Politicians typically keep a distance from such polarizing topics, meaning Canada has seen little in the way of debate in the House of Commons.  In fact, Canada is one of just a few countries around the world that does not have abortion laws.  This means that if you can find a doctor willing to perform the procedure, a woman can legally have an abortion in Canada at any stage of her pregnancy.

Indeed, proof of just how contentious this issue is can be gauged by the silence from various members of government on the passing of Morgentaler.  Given that Morgentaler is credited by vast numbers of women for advancing their rights, one would think that the Minister for the Status of Women might have released some official statement – yet, nary a peep from the Hill.  While no official statements were released, comments from politicians were quickly captured via Twitter.  Not surprisingly, very few Conservative politicians had much to say or anything positive to say about the man.  This is the same political party that appears heavily aligned with the evangelical Christian movement in Canada.

U of T Students for Life rally 2009

 Evangelical Christian groups are the biggest supporters of the pro-life movement.  There are several pro-life organizations operating in Canada, all of which appear to be aligned with various fundamental Christian groups.  When news of Morgentaler’s death broke, representatives from pro-life associations indicated that they had been and will continue to pray for his soul.  In contrast, the national group for pro-choice supporters released a statement praising Morgentaler for his “courage and compassion.”  Yes, in death, as in life, Morgentaler continues to divide Canadians.

Pro-choice counter-protest to the National March for Life in Ottawa, Ontario, in 2010

Yet, it isn’t the man himself that is polarizing as much as it is the symbol of a movement that he represents.  The debate often involves matters of religion and science intersecting ethics.  Indeed, many of the arguments put forth by pro-life advocates are laced in religious tones and scriptural connotations.  Public policies that are overtly influenced by theological considerations are not the norm in Canada.  Mixing religion and politics is frowned upon by the vast majority of Canadians – despite the fact that Canada does not have any legislation that officially separates church and state (like our neighbours to the South do).   Therefore, efforts to change the status quo through the voice of scripture just aren’t going to fly in the Great White North – at least not any time soon.  This is particularly true for a country whose demographics are shifting away from religious institutions toward a more secular spirituality.  Movements lose relevancy when changes to public policy are sought based on religious concerns (what the Bible, or other holy scriptures, say about abortion is another blog topic for another day).  The point is that debates concerning public policy cannot be framed within a particular theological worldview – especially in a country as religiously diverse as Canada.  Doing so, means your cause will no longer be about human rights – but rather a particular brand of divine ordinance that may not even be relevant to a large section of the population.  Religious groups have given us many fine social institutions in Canada (schools, hospitals, etc.), but that was during a time when religion dictated almost every aspect of life.  This isn’t the case in today’s Canada.  It likely won’t be the case in the very near future.

So, if we’re going to have a debate about rights, responsibilities, and life – let’s avoid the usual religious rabble-rousing.  This doesn’t mean that I think we should open the debate about abortion.  If you read between the lines of my post, it’s pretty easy to see where I stand on the issue.  That said, part of me is disconcerted that Canada theoretically allows fetuses to be aborted up to the moment before birth (if you can find a doctor willing to do it).  Even the staunchest pro-choice advocate must flinch – at least for a moment – at that thought.  But, where do we draw the line?  That my faithful flock, is another question to be answered another day.

M. xo

P.S.  An interesting – and perhaps highly sensational – book on the subject of the evangelical movement in Canada’s political system is Marci McDonald’s The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada.  Check it out, and then let me know what you think!

 

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Bye, bye, Penny…

March 30th, 2012 1 comment
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Yesterday it was announced that the Canadian government will stop producing the one-cent coin. Personally, I think this make economic cents sense.  It’s long overdue.  Let’s face it, when it costs more to produce a currency than its actual value then it’s clearly not a financially sound practice.

Some have decried the move as one that will hurt only the neediest of our society because businesses will start rounding up the price, ultimately increasing the cost of goods and services.  Further, there’s speculation that charity boxes will suffer as people have less change (pennies) to drop into the box.   On these points, only time will tell.

Personally, I prefer to take a more optimistic view.  The government is going to save roughly eleven million dollars a year by phasing out production of the penny.  That’s eleven million dollars that could be spent on propping up some of our social and health programs.  That’s eleven million dollars a year less of taxpayer money that is being needlessly wasted.

Further, as the government starts collecting the billions of pennies assuredly sitting in old piggy banks across the nation – there may be an opportunity to make some extra money from the precious copper constituents of older pennies.  Seems like a win-win situation to me.

The penny is a currency of a bygone era.  There’s practically nothing left that can be purchased with the one-cent coin  (I think fondly of the penny candies that we so often purchased at the corner store in my youth).  So, let’s embrace this change.  I know change is hard, but ultimately this change is long overdue.

Photos: Canadian Penny 1858-2012 Source: The Montreal Gazette

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Canadian Thanksgiving, eh?

October 8th, 2011 No comments
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It’s the start of the Thanksgiving long weekend here in Canada.  What makes Canada’s Thanksgiving holiday differ from the American holiday of the same name?  Aside from falling on different dates, the historical underpinnings of this celebrated occasion is markedly different too. Here’s a primer for you on the origins and rites of a Canadian Thanksgiving.  My fellow Canucks, enjoy your holiday weekend.  May it be filled with laughter, great food and warm company.  Cheers, eh! M. xo

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