Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Research In A Different Direction

I have fairly conclusively demonstrated that I have absolutely no talent for palaeontology (if I had any talent for it I would be heading towards tenure by now, rather than lecturing in further education). But what I do seem to do pretty well is teach palaeontology and evolution. Those who can't, teach? Maybe.

I am currently in my second year of a two-year part-time PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education), and one of the assignments I have to complete is a research paper on a topic relevant to our teaching, whether subject-specific or pedagogical. For some time I have been intrigued about the different creation narratives of various religions, and how that affects students' acceptance of evolution. Anecdotally, I have noticed the most resistance to evolution from my First Diploma Applied Science students (vocational qualification equivalent to GCSEs), and the most acceptance of evolution from my A2 Biology students. Which is certainly preferable to the inverse. And so far the only students to have directly challenged me in the course of teaching evolution have been those whom I believe to be at least culturally Christian or Muslim.

Incidentally, when discussing the age of the Earth at 4.6 Ga, one of my Hindu A2 students rolled his eyes and sighed "Pffft, young earth creationist", before he could no longer keep up the straight face and dissolved in giggles.

Much of the anti-creationism material, literature, resources and guidance available to educators seems to be aimed towards objectors from the Abrahamic religions. While these certainly account for a large number of potential creationists, there are still the Indian, Taoic and Iranian religions to examine, not to mention more modern and folk religions. The religions represented in my classes are (in descending order of proportions): Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism, so I really must take account of the non-Abrahamic faiths.

I hope to identify whether a change of strategy is needed when teaching evolution and palaeontology to non-Abrahamic religious students. I plan to read up and give myself a much better idea of the creation narratives (I'd love to say myths, but I'm trying to be a little less strident in my atheism - it doesn't seem to be an attractive trait in a trainee lecturer). I'd like to feel more confident teaching evolution to non-Christian students who are struggling to reconcile their faiths with science. And I would love to learn something useful and publishable, but I don't hold my breath.

If nothing else, my wasted years of supposed PhD study have served to make me feel much more confident with research than my fellow PGCE students, given me a better grip of primary literature, and enabled me to do Harvard referencing blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back. So it wasn't all in vain after all.

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