The teaching of creationism is commonplace within religious instruction programs in Australian public schools, the latest RSA Webinar has heard.
At Wednesday’s webinar, guest speaker Dr Jennifer Bleazby said religious instruction teachers operating in New South Wales and Queensland schools use numerous methods of indoctrination and deliver content that undermines official curricula – especially science.
Dr Bleazby, of Monash University, is currently conducting research into religious instruction materials and evaluating whether the content fosters inquiry or features methods of indoctrination.
She said there was evidence that religious volunteers in the programs were misrepresenting non-controversial content – such as evolution – as if it were controversial.
“That means we’ve got people going into schools during class time teaching the evolutionary theory is contested or is an alternative to creationism, and presenting those as equally contested. It’s undermining content being taught by qualified science teachers on the science curriculum, which I find extraordinary,” she said.
“Some people tell me, ‘That [creationism] is not a common belief amongst religious organisations any more.’ In the materials that I’m looking at, it’s pretty common. We see it in a lot of religious instruction materials.
“Whether it’s a common belief amongst a lot of people of different religions, I don’t know. Certainly, plenty of people who are religious don’t adopt creationism, but, for whatever reason, it’s common within these religious instruction materials.”
Dr Bleazby, a recipient of an RSA Research Grant, said the indoctrination of children into false beliefs, beliefs not well-supported by evidence and epistemically controversial beliefs was at odds with the education aim of achieving growth through encouraging inquiry and critical and creative thinking.
She said the methods of indoctrination include the use of deception, reliance on pedagogy that supports uncritical learning, emotional indoctrination, such as fear and scare tactics, and rewards and inducements.
Retaining religious instruction in class time was particularly problematic, she argued, in an era of spreading misinformation and disinformation and science denialism.
“Indoctrination actively undermines the capacity for inquiry, which is the ability to make decisions for yourself, problem solve, engage in critical and creative thinking, because it’s encouraging you to just accept things on blind faith…” she said.
“People who have been indoctrinated are easy targets for being controlled. It grooms you to be manipulated.”
Recently, the Rationalist Society of Australia raised concerns about the teaching of creationism in New South Wales public schools following the discovery of materials promoting the creationist myth.
The Perrottet government, however, appeared unconcerned, with the education minister, Sarah Mitchell, and the Department of Education failing to respond to questions.