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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 10, No. 7. June 11, 1947

Education or Dogma — NBS School Broadcast Serial Suspended

Education or Dogma

NBS School Broadcast Serial Suspended

In place of "How Things Began" we present "Have You Read." These words were the first and only intimation to teachers in schools taking the NBS Broadcasts to Schools, that the usual Social Studies Serial, "How Things Began" had been suspended. This suspension followed a number of anti-evolutionary letters in the daily papers, and was imposed without consultation with practising teachers.

"Salient" interviewed Miss Jean Combs, Officer in Charge of Broadcasts to Schools. Miss Combs was able to give us the information that she was acting on a directive which called for immediate suspension, but was not prepared to say from whom the directive was received.

"Why teas the serial considered unsuitable!"

Miss Combs stated that no complaints had been received from teachers. She also supplied the information that the serial had been used for four years by the BBC. It was carefully checked and amended in the light of Broadcasting experience, and in 1945-46 the script was revised and used again. This revised script was the one used by the NBS. Miss Combs gave an outline of the method of selection used by the BBC. There is an advisory council of 51 members, including both administrators and teachers. When the serial was considered for production in New Zealand, it was thought highly suitable by all authorities concerned, and was favourably reviewed in the "Listener."

"What Guarantee is there that the Script is Accurate?"

There is the approval of Professors Ford and Whittard, who hold respectively chairs of Anthropology and Paleontology at the University of London. We consider that sufficient guarantee of its scientific accuracy.

A BBC Programme

The serial has been publicised widely. As early as November, 1946, the following statement appeared in the "Education Gazette":

"In each of the last four years the BBC has broadcast an experimental series on pre-history under the title 'How Things Began. The object of the series was to satisfy the curiosity of children about early stages of life on the Earth and the story of Man. The series proved most popular. The broadcasts" were amended in the light of experience and in 1945-46 a new serial was prepared and broadcast. (Scripts obtained from BBC. Produced by NBS.)

In the Broadcasts to Schools Handbook, which is issued to teachers in schools taking the broadcasts, there appears a summary of "How Things Began" which begins: "The series presents the early history of the Earth and the creatures in it. It is hoped that the following notes will be useful as a preliminary guide to what the broadcasts will teach and as a help to the collection of notes and other information for follow-up work." There follows some advice concerning preparations by teachers.

Introduction to NZ

The programme began on March 4 with "What is a Fossil?"

We Quote now from the "Listener" summary of the serial:

"The teaching device will be two children, a boy of thirteen, and a girl of ten, and a grown-up interested in geology and excavation, who answers their questions about how things began. The adult's part is to give information on points which had not occurred to the children, and illustrate his remarks by pretending to be an observer who returns to the past, making a running commentary on what he sees. . . . It is suggested in the broadcast that children might keep a book of the adventures of the observer. George, the boy in the serial, being very grown-up, writes notes: the girl, Alice, illustrates her book with coloured chalk drawings.

"In the first six broadcasts the main evolutionary theme is the conquest of the land, first by early land plants, then by those fishes that acquired lungs and legs and became amphibia, some of which, in their turn, evolved into the first reptiles, with their complete adaptation to land life. And the last few broadcasts will show how some mammals surpassed the rest in skill of hand and eye, and by their power to learn by experience.

"This will be followed in the second term by an explanation of what early man did with his wits and how he made a series of discoveries which enabled him to live very differently from all other animals. Then in the third term, on Tuesdays, listeners will hear the story of the rich ancient communities and of the westward spread of civilisation, through the backwoods of forested Europe to Britain."

We wish to emphasise that no school is compelled to take the broadcasts, but each year increasing numbers do so. It is solely a matter for the teachers to decide.

Evolution and Curricula

It is a public duty to criticise the curriculum of schools, provided the bases for criticism are sound and logical. The only criticism was on anti-evolutionary grounds and that in the Letters to the Editor of the daily newspapers. We can only conclude that the serial was suspended because it teaches evolution. If this is so, a large number of school textbooks will have to be purged, including Volume 1 of "Making New Zealand," which contains material that is at least as irritating to anyone with an anti-evolutionary itch. There are still people who believe that the only history which should be taught In school is that which adheres strictly to the story as given in the Bible.

However, New Zealand public schools are supposed to be secular. (See the Education Act, "Free, compulsory and secular.") Should the Book of Genesis be broadcast in chapters? No, because it is outside the province of the schools. In any case there is no reason to suppose that the process of evolution is irreconcilable with genuine Christian doctrines. Why should we assume that the "days" in the Book of Genesis are twenty-four hours long? But it is not consistent with secular educational policy to introduce religious views. This does not imply a contempt for these views but merely accords with official educational policy. Galileo was right when he said that the world was round, in spite of contrary assertions, and to deny the process of evolution is equally futile.

Possible Reaction?

This suspension is serious. It has completely disrupted a programme schedule planned two years ahead. If the objections were tenable, this would not matter two hoots. The inferior substitute programme is like a dishrag in a leaky bucket, but it could hardly be expected that the NBS can produce a satisfactory substitute on such peremptory notice. The suspension means, in some cases, that teachers' schemes for the whole year will have to be scrapped.

Since no teachers have complained to Miss Combs or to her staff during the seven months since the first notification in the "Education Gazette" and since, on the contrary, some teachers have expressed their appreciation of "How Things Began," it is reasonable to assume that it has proved suitable in practice. The series as produced in New Zealand was excellently recorded by a competent cast. The children liked it and as far as it had progressed it had proved a successful stimulant in the hands of an efficient teacher. Children aren't interested in arguments about evolution; they find the story of their earth and its various changes throughout the ages both intriguing and exciting. It was especially so when the observer was forced to Jump smartly from very B.C. to present A.D. because of some rather too attentive cretaceous reptile.

The aeries has been suspended; but there are bound to be reactions. We hope in particular that the NZEI, the largest teachers' organisation, will register an emphatic protest and that the New Education Fellowship will act likewise. We also expect some action from student teachers, but most of all we expect action from the Minister in charge of Broadcasting, who should give a public explanation and justificaron of this suspension.

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