Does homeopathy have a place in Biology education?

Grade 10’s in Life Science are asked in a research assessment to look at treatments for cancer - in this it also directs them to find out treatments from modern medicine as well as get information about herbalists and homeopaths. It basically treats them all as equal.

My question - Is this taking a good holistic view at all current treatments for cancer?


Is this directing young scientists towards all kinds crap? ( I couldn’t think of a more articulate way to word this at the moment!

Bearing in mind the almost non-existent level of scientific literacy in the general populus…

(I use young scientists in the loosest sense of the word here!)

It could be a good thing or a bad one, depending on how the assignment is worded and evaluated. If the focus is on critical appraisal, scientific consensus, substantiation, objectivity and credible/repeatable evidence (as it by rights should be) then it will no doubt be a worthwhile exercise, assuming that the students’ efforts will be fairly judged according to those criteria. On the other hand, if the evaluation reflects the teacher’s own biases (whichever way they may go), or, worse yet, the exercise is intended to “open minds” (where an “open mind” is defined as one that is in line with the teacher’s own biases) then it will be an unfruitful exercise in ego-stroking and ultimately pointless, perhaps even deleterious misdirection.

Thus, the deciding factors will be the assignment’s scope, requirements and evaluation criteria, all of which should be rigidly defined upfront and upheld.


It should also be pointed out that there is a diverse array of types of cancer which require different treatments. There is no single “cure of cancer”. Homoeopathy is not one of them.

It basically treats them all as equal.

This is the sentence that makes me say no, it’s bullcrap.

Echoing Mefi: If it’s a debunking exercise then it’s all fine. However this sounds to be a “homeopathy is science too!” deal. As such it’s atrocious.

None of those words exist in SA curriculum or pedagogy… I have had to introduce an entire marking structure to what I was given in the first place as it had the description of what to do and then an allocation of 40 marks…

I agree if it was on the basis of what you suggested however… I can approach these ideas but in terms of what they expect you to assess - a great number of teachers would probably not be capable of doing that themselves sadly.

Mmm, the dark side of the teaching profession: The training typically provides only a largely superficial, formulaic and rote knowledge of the subject matter they are asked to or intend to teach. So, for example, science teachers have little or no personal hands-on exposure to the scientific method, at best only a conceptual overview thereof, making a full appreciation virtually impossible. And it’s been my experience that this shortcoming is aggravated over the years as teachers get older and more inflexibly didactic, even sternly authoritarian in their teaching style. (Put more strongly, it seems to me that teachers, with very few exceptions, sooner or later reach a stage where they view the whole world as their classroom, much like the majority of university staff soon begins viewing the whole world as composed of rowdy and discipline-deprived students.)

Some European countries have to an extent addressed this lack of specialist knowledge by insisting that candidates must at the very least have an undergraduate degree in a relevant field before they will even be considered for a teaching diploma.


Here in South Africa, the teaching diploma consists mostly of nonsense, and we’d do well to abolish it and instead insist on a degree in the field you teach. I am of course biased, because I have a degree in the field I teach and no teaching diploma. :slight_smile:

I can tell you this though: students ARE rowdy and discipline-deprived. ;D

I can tell you this though: students ARE rowdy and discipline-deprived. ;D
Were we not the same? We got “ses van die bestes” regularly but were still hooligans. I work at different schools and discipline / manners are good in some but bad in others. Why? One thing I’ve noticed is that more hands-on headmaster schools are usually better.

Biology is a science. Homeopathy is not. It shouldn’t be given any classroom time. If you want to objectively compare homeopathy to conventional medicine, do so as part of a philosophy or life orientation course.


Actually, homoeopathy is scientific insofar as it makes testable/falsifiable claims and attempts to explain a body of observable facts by an overarching hypothesis. However, the behaviour of its proponents is where its counter-/pseudo-/anti-scientific character is to be found, namely their obstinate and slippery refusals to abide by the principles and rules of science, particularly in respect of discredited hypotheses.

Like N-rays, Lysenkoism, the Steady-state Universe, the Humour Theory of Disease, Perpetual Motion, the Aether, etc., homoeopathy can serve as a very good example of a failed scientific idea — the really instructive part being the question why it is still so widely accepted. Moreover, its history makes for an interesting story.

Still, such dead scientific ideas are not typically discussed in any depth during science classes at school, so by that standard homoeopathy should at best be mentioned only in passing.


I agree with Mefiante: it’s all abt the manner in which the project is presented: homeopathy exists and if the students are exposed to its failings and especially if they can establish this themselves via the scientific method (at least via unbiased literature research etc), it’ll be great; if it is presented as an optional method supported only by anecdotal stories of its “successes” vs cancer (and these abound!) it’ll be another hit for the unwashed bullshit artists.

I completed my teacher training and first part of my career in UK and am currently working with some student teachers in school here. The difference between the training is astounding!!!
Here students are basically used as substitute teachers in schools while we were categorically not allowed to cover lessons. Every minute was spent planning, evaluating and developing resources. Also our teaching training is grounded entirely in your subject specialisation.

I strongly feel that it is the lack of subject specialism which is a major problem here. It means there is a lack of passion for the subject, a lack of higher level knowledge outside of what is required in school, this also means that the many inaccuracies in textbooks are overlooked as the teachers do not have the knowledge to spot mistakes. Plus if you are unsure about what your are teaching, then this insecurity becomes evident and brings about behaviour issues.

But then - you can’t blame people for studying hard in a specific field, especially the sciences and then not wanting to have career in teaching due to the state of the system and of course the salaries compared to elsewhere :frowning:

So SA ends up (mostly but not entirely) with people who have been to teacher training colleges or a broad BEd and many who are unqualified ( who are often better than those who are!)

Then let’s not even get started with the attitude to change and embracing technology that some have…


I can’t quite work out what you mean by “here”: the UK or South Africa? Seeing as I am formally not qualified in teaching, I couldn’t get an appointment at any government school (something for which I am ever more grateful). I now teach at a reasonably decent private school, and I think I learned more in a single term in front of a class than I ever would have in four years of doing a South African B. Ed. degree.

I strongly feel that it is the lack of subject specialism which is a major problem here. It means there is a lack of passion for the subject, a lack of higher level knowledge outside of what is required in school, this also means that the many inaccuracies in textbooks are overlooked as the teachers do not have the knowledge to spot mistakes. Plus if you are unsure about what your are teaching, then this insecurity becomes evident and brings about behaviour issues.

Yup, most of the available textbooks are peppered with the most absurd of errors. As a recent example: in the science textbook that my grade 6 students use, it is stated that Galileo discovered Venus and Jupiter. The mind boggles.

Right across the road from us is a government school, and one of my grade 5 students used to be in that school. The girl is basically illiterate. I struggled long and hard to work out why it is that even though she studies hard, she always fails her tests because her spelling is so atrocious that one cannot make out what she means. Last week I finally discovered what the problem is: she did not know that letters stand for sounds. So she had been memorizing the shape of words - like a Chinese student, or a child deaf from birth, she in effect had to remember thousands of separate symbols. This is apparently the way reading is nowadays taught in many schools here. Some of my younger colleagues tell me that when they studied, they were never taught the technique of teaching grade 1 kids how to sound letters before stringing them together.

Well, our grade 1 teacher does use that method, and she took the girl in hand. It is now two days later and the girl is finally excited about going to school: an entire new world has opened for her. If she works at it, she’ll finally be able to read, after five years in a government school.

The whole incident told me once again what an utter disaster public education in South Africa is. And our teacher training has descended into postmodernist nonsense and politics. I started doing the postgrad teacher’s diploma last year, and within months gave up. I simply couldn’t stand it anymore. They might as well have stamped the ANC logo on the covers of the study guides. The contents had virtually nothing whatever to do with how to teach anything, or with subject knowledge. It was all just about how bad things were in the past, and how essential change is.

In the meantime, from what I hear, government school teachers are so buried in pointless paper work that they literally have no time to prepare lessons or teach them. Kids from government schools tell me teachers mostly just sit at their desks, filling in endless reams of forms. Or they flee from class, crying because of stuff utterly undisciplined kids do.

The way it goes now, we may as well close down virtually all the schools in the country. Then parents would at least KNOW they have no schools. At the moment they think they have when in fact they mostly don’t have.

The irony is that just about the only remaining good schools here are the former Model C schools, which are of course mostly white schools. Instead of simply taking over the system as they found it when they came to power, and then extending it to all communities instead of just white ones (a project that would have taken time but would have worked perfectly well), the governing party threw out the baby with the bath water. They unmade the education system in its entirety, and utterly failed to replace it with anything remotely workable. Result: the gap between white and black is now larger than it ever was before.

I have zero sympathy: with this, they really have no one to blame but themselves.

But then - you can't blame people for studying hard in a specific field, especially the sciences and then not wanting to have career in teaching due to the state of the system and of course the salaries compared to elsewhere :(

Heh, I did a B. Sc. in zoology, which outside of education is of no use at all. I get paid about half of what a government teacher gets, and have no real choice but to accept it. The government schools will not appoint me under any circumstances, and I never could earn anything more than that anywhere else either. I have concluded that a B. Sc. in zoology has about the same effect on one’s CV as a criminal record, and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. :slight_smile:

But your point stands: why would someone with a B degree in, say, physics and chemistry, go work as teacher when he can get three or four times the salary working for SASOL?

Now I have to say that some of the problems in education are systemic and not the minister’s or anyone else’s fault. For one thing, most of our teachers teach, and their students study, in what is for them a second or third language. That is already a big challenge to overcome. Huge numbers of kids come from households where there are effectively no parents, so by the time they reach schooling age, they have quite literally sustained brain damage and there is preciously little even a good school can do for them.

I don’t think people realize just what a catastrophically debilitating effect even mild neglect has on a child’s mental development. Well, I’m the lucky winner who gets to pick up the pieces of wreckage and try to glue it all together again, so I have seen it with my own eyes.

Even in the case of kids from quite affluent homes such as the ones I teach, I am often astonished at how they are materially spoiled while being emotionally completely neglected by their parents. They have more expensive cell phones than I will ever be able to afford in my life, and get way more pocket money than I can allow myself, yet many of them are sometimes left for days on end to look after themselves, with parents not caring in the least whether they go to bed at regular times, eat a balanced meal, or pass their tests. It makes for a poisonous combination, because they end up being too undisciplined and unfocused to really make any use of a school, while at the same time developing a sense of entitlement and a lazy attitude that further diminishes their prospects.

Result of all this: fifty years from now, South Africa will still be mostly in the hands of whites. You cannot legislate or propagandize reality out of existence, and our education department apparently lives in complete and utter denial of reality, the pedagogical equivalent of religious fundamentalists. I sometimes wonder whether it is not a deliberate policy to keep the populace ignorant, and hence compliant, because if they had to come up with a policy specifically designed to ensure that the inequalities of the past remain, they couldn’t have done better than our current education system. Heck, not even Verwoerd’s policies, or the way they were implemented, did as much damage as the people’s own “liberators” are currently doing.

In the meantime they angrily clamour about land reform, but they are barking up the wrong tree. A farm is of no use to someone who can neither farm nor even read. What needs to be transferred is not cash and land, but knowledge and skills, and the education department is making very sure that this will not happen.

That’s a scary picture you paint, Brian. Scary, but not really surprising. When you wonder about “a deliberate policy to keep the populace ignorant,” you’re giving them too much credit, I think. It’s pure Dunning-Kruger. As you say, there’s more than a little of the fundamentalist’s mindset to the powers administering and furthering this whole sorry basic education mess. Is it too much to hope that they might ever sober up?


As a friend of mine always says, reality always wins. Perhaps they’ll sober up when reality kicks in. Or perhaps not. Rome fell before; perhaps we’ll witness it falling again.

True enough, but, to extend the metaphor, reality tends to defer its triumphs to the final energetic push during extra time. And let’s not lose sight of what the foremost underlying cause is: Our politicians’ and leaders’ inimitable proficiency with denial, deflection and obfuscation. Without that, a disaster-in-the-making such as the one before us could be averted with some dedicated effort. The question that urgently needs answering is why a problem usually must reach desperate proportions first before people start paying attention.

On the upside, just recently I learned about local moves being afoot by private concerns that aim to address basic education issues, initially focussing on mathematics, English and science in selected rural areas. The idea is to make one-on-one tutors available online and to provide the necessary (self-contained) infrastructure to facilitate this. It will be billed as supplementary to the DoBE’s syllabus (although one could reasonably expect that it will eventually wholly subsume that syllabus). To begin with, corporate sponsors will be the primary source of funding, and tutors will contribute voluntarily, later to be extended into more affluent schools where small sums will be charged to make use of the resources so that it becomes largely self-sustaining. The programme itself came out of Singapore and follows First World standards of education. It’s an ambitious project perhaps, but one that is eminently feasible and economically viable with a little goodwill and today’s technology, and itself a product of science and mathematics.


Direct answer: no.

Unless the teacher also includes reiki and crystal healing >:D

Brian. Random thought. If you are interested in palaeo zoo stuff and sick of teaching, the oil companies are the place to look. Those tiny little fossilized skeletons that need an expert to identify are of major interest to hydrocarbon exploration companies.

Actually, I love teaching. It just isn’t very lucrative. :slight_smile: