Schooldays were never as ‘creative’ in my youth

Education Secretary Michael Gove
Education Secretary Michael Gove

SO that’s why I am such a blithering dunderhead! I was taught Creationism at school!

This must count as one of those recovered memories that psychiatrists and social workers are so keen on. Only now, well into middle age, do I recall the awful facts about my early schooling.

Michael Gove is indirectly responsible. The secretary of State for Education is espousing a policy that will enable “free schools” to be set up by charities, universities, businesses, groups of parents or just about anybody really. What is meant by “free” is that they can exist without any pesky local education authorities meddling with them.

This must explain how Jamie Oliver was able to set up “Jamie’s Dream School” staffed exclusively by painfully obvious celebrities. Art classes from Rolf Harris. History lessons with David Starkey etc. Or is this just another ludicrous experiment in reality (i.e. artificial) TV? (“ I think the latter” – ed).

Anyway, a lot of people are unhappy about these free schools, not least because anybody, qualified or not, is allowed to teach in them (we are back to “Jamie’s Dream School” again). And the fear is some of these schools, because of the sinister, fundamentalist agenda of their founders, will teach Creationism.

To which the correct response is “Aaaargh!”, because nothing is quite so repellent to the rational, liberal, modern British mind than the thought of schools that have Creationism on the curriculum.

It‘s all very well for madrassas in Taliban territory or schools in the Deep South of the USA where teachers are whipped across the state line if they so much as mention Charles Darwin to their class. But in Britain, to teach Creationism is a form of original sin.

How exactly is Creationism taught? Is it timetabled? Imagine the scene at St Fundament’s College, in the first session after the lunch break…

“Right, 2B, it’s time for your Creationism class. Jenkins, close the curtains so that the modern world is shut out. Now it’s quite simple. In the beginning there was basically nothing, so God created the world and all the creatures in it. It took Him six days and on the seventh He rested, which explains why people have Sundays free, so that they can go shopping for leather sofas. Any questions?”

Obviously, there’s more to it than that (I suppose shopping for leather sofas on a Sunday counts as heresy to a Creationist). Perhaps pupils who have been caught watching documentaries by Professor Brian Cox are told to stand in the corner or write out “I must not watch filth!” a thousand times.

But whilst trying to image the daily routine at St Fundament’s, I suddenly realised that I, all those years ago, was taught Creationism. That is to say, at my Brighouse primary school – it closed down long ago, so don’t try to find it and stand outside waving placards – we had lessons that I think were called Scripture.

The nice lady in charge – she was a Methodist I recall – told us all about Genesis, and the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. And, er, that was it really.

The point is that never subsequently in my school career was I actually taught anything else about the origin of the world. In time, I picked up some stuff about Darwin and evolution but because – like all sensible pupils – I steered clear of difficult science subjects, I was never actually instructed in anything other than a few basic Bible stories when it came to the origins of the world and the universe. And it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference.

In one of the early Sherlock Holmes stories, Dr Watson is shocked to learn that the great detective is clueless about the Solar System. “What difference does it make to me if the earth revolves around the sun?” exclaims Holmes. One should never be proud of ignorance, but I have always had a spot of sympathy for Holmes’s stance. In a way it is probably just as important to learn folk tales from the Bible as it is to know about Darwin. Our culture is a product of all these things.

Anyway, you will be glad to know that Michael Gove has ruled out any prospect that the new free schools will be able to embed Creationism into their curricula.

And my sweet old lady Scripture teacher went to meet her maker long ago.