Romania’s withdrawal of the theory of evolution from the school curriculum could be evidence of a growing conservative tendency in teaching. Evolution has been removed from the school curriculum in a move which, pressure groups argue, distorts children’s understanding of how the world came into being.
Meanwhile, religious studies classes continue to tell Romanian children that God made the world in seven days.
The theory of the Origin of Species and the evolution of humans is no longer present in the compulsory curriculum, through a nationwide decision made under the previous Government in 2006. Before the change, Darwin’s theory was taught to pupils aged 18 or 19 years old. This was also in the curriculum during the Communist period of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
Information on natural selection, how fish turned into lizards and, more or less, a summary of the first 4.5 billion years of the world until man walked the earth is now optional.
“We don’t teach the theory of evolution anymore,” said one 38 year-old Bucharest-based biology teacher.
But the Minister of Education, Cristian Adomnitei, argues that biology is taught within the context of evolution. “This subject can be found implicitly from middle school to high-school,” the Minister tells The Diplomat. “Do you think that the studies about the world where we live, its evolution or genetics can ignore the evolution theory? This is impossible.”
But Remus Cernea, president of Solidarity for Freedom of Conscience, is unimpressed by the Ministry’s position on implicit learning.
“How can the evolution theory be implicit?” Cernea says. “The evolution theory is either present in the curriculum and in the text books and is studied by everybody, or not present in the curriculum and nobody studies it.”
Meanwhile, in religious classes, pupils are taught that the world was created in seven days and God made plants on the third day and the sun on the fourth. Textbooks claim the first man was Adam, who was ‘made of ground’, and that Eve, the first woman, was made from one of her husband’s ribs.
“The Romanian state, whether it intends or not, offers pupils a unique perspective on the world, the religious one, without any critical scientific or philosophical offset,” argues Cernea.
Biology has been cut from two hours to one of teaching per week for the final two years in many high schools. In place of evolution, kids are taught more about human ecology and the environment, subjects which one biology teacher says children find boring.
“Kids find out what really happened from the Discovery channel,” she adds. “They don’t really believe the world was made in six days. Well, I hope they don’t.”
No one is accusing the Orthodox Church of any kind of conspiracy to replace evolution with creationism by the back door. “The only motivation I can see is the lack of vision on pupils’ education in Romania,” says Cernea.
In 2006, the Ministry of Education and Research also removed Voltaire, Camus and Nietzsche from the philosophy curriculum. These three writers are noted for their critical views on religion and Nietzsche’s pronouncement that ‘God is dead’.
Some teachers fear a creeping conservative tendency in Romania’s schools.
At present, children are taught religious classes from ages seven to 18. This is mostly an Orthodox curriculum. They are also taught that to sleep in on Sunday mornings is bad because children should be going to church.
“It’s not being taught about religion and what it means,” said one headmistress. If a parent wants their child not to attend the classes, because they are, for example, Jewish, Muslim or agnostic, he or she has to draft a letter to the school. The child then sits in a library or the head teacher’s office working on, say, maths or languages.
But there are new proposals to make all religious classes compulsory for the education system, regardless of the parents’ wishes. All children who do not want to attend Religion classes would attend a Moral and Religious Education class. But there is no one qualified to teach Moral and Religious Education. Some teachers fear that the classes will, with minor additions, be the same Orthodox curriculum dictated by a religious studies teacher to a single Jew, Muslim or Humanist in a library or staff room.
Michael Bird (additional reporting: Corina Ilie and Ana-Maria Nitoi); Courtesy The Diplomat