Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Science Education in Alberta

The Alberta legislature is considering a law that allows parents to pull their children out of certain classes if those classes conflict with the family's religion. Many people interpreted this to mean that parents could take their children out of biology classes when evolution is being taught [see Don't Like Evolution in Alberta?].

According to an article in The Globe and Mail this may have been an over-reaction [Alberta law imperils teaching of 'religious' topics like evolution, critics fear]. While the opposition parties are incensed and the school teachers are angry, it appears that there is at least one senior government official who knows the difference between science and religion.
Frank Bruseker, head of the Alberta Teachers' Association, said he is also concerned about what the new rules could mean.

He is worried that some parents might think mentioning different classes of worms would constitute a reference to evolution.

And he said no discussion of ancient geologic formations can be had without mentioning the world is billions of years old, much more than a literal reading of the Bible would suggest.

Meanwhile, history and literature from around the world are full of references to religious upheaval.

"Religion is kind of a fuzzy thing, in a sense, in that what some people see as religion others might not," Mr. Bruseker said.

Opposition parties have hammered the government on the issue, saying the province is headed back to the time of the 1925 Scopes trial, in which a high school biology teacher in Tennessee was tried for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution.

Premier Ed Stelmach conceded to reporters last week that the provision could be used to pull students out of classes dealing with evolution if parents preferred their kids be taught what's in the Bible instead.

"The parents would have the opportunity to make that choice," he told a news conference.

But Lindsay Blackett, the minister responsible for human rights, said in an interview that the intention of the law is to allow parents to pull children out only when the curriculum specifically covers religion, something that happens for a few hours each school year.

"It's talking about religion [such as] Hindu, or Muslim, or that type of religion, not ... the curriculum with respect to, for instance, evolution," he said.

"That's science and we're not arguing science."
I hope he (Blackett) is right and not the premier. I hope the new legislation will contain an amendment making it clear that students cannot be taken out of science classes when evolution is covered. It's nice to see so many teachers and politicians in Alberta standing up for science.

[Photo Credit: Minister of Culture and Community Spirit]


  1. It's unusual that a caucus, let alone a parliament, cannot agree on the general effect of the very laws they just passed.

    It begs the question of whether there still is a parliament in Alberta.

  2. "Religion is kind of a fuzzy
    thing. . ."

    It causes "fuzzy" thinking as well.

  3. Blackett seems to be fairly clued in on science, but this issue is showing deep divisions within the Conservative caucus. The opposition (Harry Chase, Brian Mason, David Swann and Laurie Blakeman) have been asking good questions about Bill 44. Dave Hancock, the Minister of Education and Lindsay Blackett have been taking most of the heat and just really parroting canned statements rather than answering the questions. One really gets the impression that Blackett is being screwed over by Stelmach and other senior caucus members such as Ted Morton.

    Furthermore, Hancock has stated clearly in his blog that he thinks this issue should be dealt with in the school act, and not human rights. Obviously neither Hancock or Blackett have sufficient power in the cabinet to sway the more religious members.
    Perhaps the most revealing interview on the caucus politics is Rob Breakenridge interviewing Blackett, then Ezra Levant, a few days ago. It leaves little doubt that Blackett had nothing to do with the bad parts of the legislation (leaving in censorship, and adding the opt-out clause), but rather they were forced by other members of the caucus. Well worth listening to.

    The Chumir Foundation is also frustrated by the government on this issue, especially after their extensive research on the HRC is being completely ignored by the government.
    (from the Chumir PDF Mar 4) "Minister Blackett has said that “if you took the thing literally” and ran with it, “we’d have anarchy.” So, it’s not meant to be taken literally? How then is it meant to be taken?
    How else is law to be taken?
    Either this legislation is meant to lead to human rights complaints – and it will be used if
    available, as we have seen with s. 3 – or it is not meant to be used, in which case it is
    The parental opt-out takes us down a very unwise path and I suspect many Albertans –
    teachers, students, and parents, among them – will be very sorry that this bad idea was
    ever inflicted on the human rights system and the schools."

    There is also the possibility that this whole fiasco could be a “Trojan Cowboy” to obtain 100% funding for the private faith schools. It was raised from 60% to 70% last summer but the schools have been lobbying hard for 100%.

  4. Somehow this bringing religion in to science appear to me to be much like bringing dogs into restaurants.
    Generally nobody wants dogs there while eating, but if the customer is rich and influential enough, she can bring the mutt to dine at the table.
    Admittedly, dogs are highly preferably to the religious, but that's a different story.

  5. Is it really ok that this law is designed only to refer to information regarding other religions and not science? This is simply "protecting" children from information specific adults are uncomfortable with.

    If children realize there are happy hindu children in India, maybe they will realize that religion is a cultural product and be less religious. We cant have that can we, think of the children!?!?!

    Face it, its a simple step from pulling students out of a history or literature class when those other religions may get mentioned (in a not eternal damnation way) to pulling them from science classes. Hell, we have all heard the meme that natural materialism or darwinism is simply religion.