Too many teachers reject or ignore evolution

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.

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  • The side that can't stand debate but relies on court decisions written by coreligionists obvious is on shakier ground factually.
    Real science is a matter of observable examples and plausible mechanisms, nothing to do with mere say so of a concensus of atheistic collegues united around a political agenda for change with hopes for a socialist Amerika. Christians invented modern science but have to pay their dues too. Censorship attempts are a confession your reasoning's too weak to stand in the light of scrutiny and competition.

    Posted by Quentin L F Patch, 02/10/2011 10:11pm (3 years ago)

  • The article raises very interesting points. As a university/college leve. teacher of both cultural and, occasionally, physical anthropology courses over the years. I can attest that within the last decade and a half, there has been a greater and greater tendency for each class to have at least one student in it who balked at completing assignments or giving coherent answers on essay examinations because of the offensive by supportes of "creationism" and "intelligent design". My line with such students has always been "look, you don't have to agree with a single word I, or the textbook authors, say, but on a test, you need to be able to explain the theory of evolution and its application to this course, even if you have another opinon". Sometimes this would work but often I would hear "my pastor told me I must not even listen to what you say, and that I am not supposed to read the class materials". They expected that I would set up a whole alternate set of lectures and reading materials on the side, and give them special tests in which they did not have to deal with the theory of evolution, even though of all the basic courses taught in any college or university, physical anthropology would be the one which most depends on the students' understanding Darwinian concepts. I told them that I would not do this, and perhaps if they feel so strongly about the matter they should drop the course. This, of course, was interpreted sometimes as despotic and intolerant behavior on my part, but I was not going to make a concession to ignorance and narrow-mindedness on this topic, any more than I was going to start teaching an extra course (without remuneration, of course) based on ideas I think are wrong, just for this group of students.
    I am sure that as Dan says, there are secondary school teachers who have personal, individual problems in teaching concepts of evolution and other aspects of science. But I think a greater problem is that many teachers fear that if they forthrightly teach such concepts they will get attacked by possibly influential members of the commuity (the local Tea Pottie crowd and so forth) and they won't be supported by the schools administration and the elected political leadership. Their careers will suffer or even come screeching to an end.
    What we can do about it is to raise our own voices in defense of the right and responsibility of teachers to teach the best science possible.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 02/10/2011 5:09pm (3 years ago)

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