By Melissa Story, July 3, 2013
Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, 1970s
Creation science instruction was quietly introduced into some British Columbia science classes in the late 1970s. Unlike the Abbotsford case, which received considerable media and government scrutiny, other districts enacting such policies received little attention. Indeed, scant evidence exists that creationism was ever taught in public schools.
The Mission School Board introduced creation-instruction to its classrooms in 1976 (Chahal, 2002), but there exists little evidence to support rumours that creation instruction was taking place in other schools throughout British Columbia. Further, the policy enacted by the Mission School Board garnered much less controversy than the Abbotsford case. It is unclear as to why one board’s policy went virtually unnoticed, while another’s in the same province created a nationwide stir – particularly given that both boards enacted their policies within a few short years of each other.
Minutes from the Abbotsford School Board show that trustees brought the issue to the table in the late 1970s, perhaps at the behest of unofficial lobbyists, including parents and pastors in the region. There is no further documentation that corroborates what, if any, action was implemented as a result of the issue being addressed by the board; however, additional board reports on creationism in elementary and secondary schools, and evidence of the purchase of several creationist materials around this time, suggest that the board may have acted upon these unofficial requests (Chahal, 2002). Journalist, Lois Sweet (1997), who interviewed stakeholders embroiled in the controversy, posited that the school board had merely been addressing the wishes of constituents which consisted of many members of the Mennonite and Dutch Reform Church communities. The nature as to how the Abbotsford School District’s Origin of Life Policycame to fruition remains uncertain. It is clear, however, that strong fundamentalist Christian advocates played a role in ensuring that creation-instruction would be entrenched in the school board’s science program for more than ten years.
Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, 1980s
In late 1980, an Abbotsford resident, Mr. H. Hiebert, began to a campaign to have more creationist materials available to teaching staff in the district. Feeling that his requests to the board were not satisfactorily addressed, he approached local news outlets and urged residents to make the lack of creation-instruction a concern during the upcoming election of school board trustees (Chahal, 2002). In early 1981, the Creation Science Association of Canada (CSAC) sent provincial Education Minister, Brian Smith, a petition with over 7000 signatures from concerned citizens regarding the lack of equal time for creationist theory and evolution theory in science classrooms. Mr. Smith responded by suggesting that both theories could be of value for students to learn (Barker, 2004; British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 1995; Chahal, 2002). The Education Minister’s comments created little more than a ripple of controversy at the time and were forgotten as quickly as they had been mentioned.
Around this same time, the Abbotsford School Board began the first draft of its Origin of Life policy. The policy read in part:
“In view of the fact that neither the Divine creation nor evolutionary concepts of the origin of life are capable of verification by means of scientific experimentation, and because the teaching of one view of origins to the exclusion of the other view will almost certainly antagonize those parents and/or pupils who hold to the alternative view, all teachers, when discussing and/or teaching the origin of life in the classrooms, are requested to expose students, in as objective a manner as possible, to both Divine creation and the evolutionary concepts of life’s origins, with the evidence that is presented in support of each view, and to refrain from any assertions that would set forth either view as absolute.” (as cited in Chahal, 2002, p. 50).
In 1983, a majority vote made it a requirement that teachers refrain from teaching only the theory of evolution (Barker, 2004). Further, teachers were instructed to teach both creationist and evolution theories in a few key classes, specifically Biology 11, 12 and Social Studies 7 (British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 1995). The application of this policy appears to be far less dramatic than the policy itself. Textbook resources were made available to students who showed interest in creationist theories. Many of these resources were from fundamentalist Christian organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research. In other instances, guest speakers from CSAC were invited to present in classes. For the most part, however, teachers either avoided the topic of origin of life altogether, or briefly mentioned that some groups contested Darwin’s theory (Barker, 2004). Fleeting media attention was directed at the policy and its application. Almost a decade later, Abbotsford was thrust back in the media spotlight.
Stayed tuned for part 3 of 4 in my series on Creationism in Canada. In Part 3, I’ll explore creationism throughout the 1990’s, once again focusing on Abbotsford, B.C. The final chapter of this series will explore creationism in Canada today, including an examination of some provincial science curricula and policies pertaining to creationist instruction.
Barker, J. (2004). Creationism in Canada. In S. Coleman & L. Carlin (Eds.), The cultures of creationism (pp. 85-108). Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (1995). Comments on the “creation science” movement in British Columbia. Retrieved from http://bccla.org/our_work/comments-on-the-creation-science-movement-in-british-columbia/
Chahal, S. S. (2002). Nation building and public education in the crossfire: An examination of the Abbotsford School Board’s 1981-1995 Origin of Life policy (Master’s Thesis). Retrieved from https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/16315
Sweet, L. (1997). God in the classroom: The controversial issue of religion in Canada’s schools.Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart Inc.