Something needs to be done about teachers who simply refuse to educate kids.
We're not talking the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric of the news media and Republican officials. We're talking about science teachers who refuse to teach science, specifically the scientific fact of evolution.
These problem teachers - who openly flout the law - aren't discussed by Fox News or right-wing politicians.
According to a recent article in Science magazine, by Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer, thousands of people employed as science teachers across the country actually teach their students "creation" myths - even though 40 years of court rulings have consistently upheld the principle that all kids deserve a real, scientific education. And, according to the courts, that doesn't mean creation myths, intelligent design "theories" or anything else but evolution.
Other mis-teachers teach intelligent design as a co-equal theory with evolution. Some other teachers, out of fear of controversy, simply avoid the subject altogether.
The teachers who teach real science deserve applause. Unfortunately, that means applauding only the 28 percent of biology teachers who, according to the article, "consistently implement the major recommendations and conclusions of the National Research Council. They unabashedly introduce evidence that evolution has occurred and craft lesson plans so that evolution is a theme that unifies disparate topics in biology."
An astounding 13 percent of teachers explicitly advocate intelligent design, the article says, and another 5 percent say they endorse that non-scientific notion when answering student questions. And they apparently have few qualms about it. According to the article, "29 percent of all other teachers report having been 'nervous at an open house event or meeting with parents'" about the subject, while the corresponding figure for creationists, or creationists in disguise - the supporters of "intelligent design" - is only 19 percent.
Then there are the "cautious" teachers, as the report calls them. These educators, who make up about 60 percent of the whole, do the best they can to skirt the issue. Some teach only molecular biology, others make a point of noting that they only teach evolution because the state requires it, and others expose students to both science and the variety of "competing theories."
As Berkman and Plutzer point out, these methods, especially the "competing theories" one, undermine real scientific understanding of the reason for the diversity of species and can also lead some students to believe in creationist thought. This means that a total of nearly 75 percent of biology teachers either specifically teach non-science or shy away from the subject of evolution and development of species.
The authors quote a teacher who says he wants students to make up their minds "based on their own beliefs and research. Not on what a textbook or on what a teacher says." While this sounds nice, Berkman and Plutzer point out the obvious: Can a student really be expected to possess "enough information to reject thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers?"
This lack of teaching of real science - either because of intimidation or because of creationist subversion of court rulings - hurts students overall. How can they be expected to understand the scientific method if they aren't taught it? Especially given that for about a quarter of all high school students, these biology classes are the only science classes they ever take?
Why should anyone care? The study's authors respond that when many young people are not provided "a sound science education," it is "problematic in a democracy dependent on meaningful citizen input on highly technical, but consequential, public policies."
Further, as the study points out, this illegal teaching helps to reproduce a socially reactionary culture. The authors say, "We ranked school districts from least to most socially conservative, and in the 15 percent most socially conservative school districts, nearly 4 in 10 teachers personally do not accept human evolution ... The next generation of adults is thus predisposed to share the anti-evolution views" of the preceding generation.
This hurts democracy and progress. Evolution is accepted by most major religious groups in our country: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Islamic. Strengthening the anti-evolution camp strengthens the smattering of anti-evolution religious groups and extremist evangelicals, who also support the most backwards elements in national politics. These are also the same groups who will fight to keep "intelligent design" in the classroom.
The fight for real science education is the law of the land, as determined repeatedly by various court decisions. More importantly it is the fight for democracy and progress.