In 2015 I was speaking at a geek convention, where I ran into two excellent people (and a lot of other excellent people, actually, but two I’m going to tell you about). One of them went to an ACE school in Oxfordshire, and the other one, who I’ll call Esther, went to Emmanuel College, Gateshead. After my talk we all went for a curry, and as we were walking, Esther started talking about how she’d been taught creationism at the school.
This is an explosive allegation. There was a minor media storm in 2002 when Richard Dawkins, among others, said that the school’s stance on creationism should be investigated. Ofsted reinspected the school’s science materials and concluded the matter did not to be taken further. In 2009, Emmanuel’s founder won a lawsuit against a newspaper which claimed the college taught creationism.
So then Esther and I had this exchange (as close to verbatim as I can remember it):
Me: Really? But Ofsted investigated and found no evidence they were teaching creatio—
Esther: What! Did they even go there?
Me: It was that blatant?
Esther: Yeah. Did they look at the walls? It was everywhere. My yearbook had a picture of Earth on the cover with the title “In the Beginning…”
Esther had no idea she was saying anything controversial. As far as she was concerned, creationism had just been a fact of her education, and she was unaware of the media reports. Her story, however, corroborates the testimony of two former Emmanuel students who, in a 2006 documentary, said they were taught creationism.
When Faith Schoolers Anonymous launched a couple of weeks ago, Esther was one of the first people I thought of. And I’m really glad she agreed to write something about it, which is on FSA now:
Christian teaching was pervasive, and the personal beliefs of the staff were regularly aired in some bizarre contexts. A physics teacher told my class that we should remember that the red wire electrical circuit was ‘positive’ as it was the same colour as the blood of Christ.
Evolution was taught in biology under duress. The staff made it clear that this part of the curriculum was delivered only because it is legal obligation. Much was made of the phrase ‘theory’; the word was abused and manipulated in an attempt to convey evolutionary science as intellectual speculation. Instead of explaining how in scientific parlance a theory is a convergence of multiple independent conclusions, it was disingenuously used as a slur.
Having dinner with Esther and my ex-ACE friend was an enormously validating experience. I wish everyone who went to a conservative Christian school could have the opportunity to eat with people from two other schools and discover how much you have in common. Although there are obviously big differences between ACE schools and Emmanuel, it was obvious we were all talking the same language.
More on Emmanuel College and creationism:
Faith Schoolers Anonymous is a platform for anyone in the UK to share their experiences at religious schools of every kind. If you went to a faith school, whether last week or in 1950, please consider sharing your experience and how it has affected you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or upload your file here.
From the BBC, 2006, about Emmanuel College founder Peter Vardy:
Sir Peter said recently he believed God had created the Earth and man in his own image.
“Quite how long it took him I don’t know and frankly I don’t care,” he said.
If God had wanted to create the Earth in six days he could have done, he added – but he said that he, as sponsor, had no say in what was taught in the schools.
So Peter Vardy is yet another Jelly Creationist.