A new survey of the way evolution is taught in US public schools reveals that there is "a disconnect between legal rulings, scientific consensus, and classroom education."
"The authors show that the disparity in teaching evolution is not linked to differences in state regulations, but can more likely be attributed to differences of religious belief and education amongst teachers. Less than one-third of high school biology teachers believe that God had no part in evolution, nearly one-half believe God had a hand in evolution, and almost one in six believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years."
Differences about the teaching of origins in schools are set to continue
Unfortunately, the authors make the usual mistake of thinking that science (and scientists) cannot be described as being "religiously motivated members of the community". It is extraordinary that caricatures have endured so long without being thrown out as unworthy of serious attention! The point can be illustrated by comparing this quote:
"Evolution - more precisely opposition to it - is profoundly important to fundamentalist Christianity, where it has played a critical role in its early formation as doctrine and as a social movement."
. . . with this edited alternative:
"Evolution - more precisely support for it - is profoundly important to fundamentalist scientism, where it has played a critical role in its early formation as doctrine and as a social movement."
Until opinion-formers in science recognise that evolutionary theory is not ideologically neutral but bristling with philosophical stances and ideological agendas, we cannot move forward in this debate.
Two sorts of teachers are described in the essay. The first are those who need a good input of staff-development:
"This is particularly true of the many teachers who lack a full understanding of evolution, or at least confidence in their knowledge of it. Such a lack of confidence can lead teachers to avoid confrontations with students, parents, and the wider community. They may, for example, not treat evolution as the class's organizing principle, or may avoid effective hands-on activity to teach it, or not ask students to apply natural selection to real life situations."There is much that suggests a condescending attitude here: teachers are professionals yet this report presents some of them as ill-equipped to teach their specialist subject. Reference to "effective hands-on activity to teach it", or asking students "to apply natural selection to real life situations" are pointers to evidences of variation in nature and the influences of natural selection. But this empirical science is something all creationists and ID advocates will want to teach, encouraging critical thought by students about what the evidence actually means. ID scientists have always argued for better teaching of these topics, not for changing the syllabus so these subjects are not taught.
The second type of teacher are those who are creationists (apparently 16% of those surveyed). These are considered to be unresponsive to the legal judgments and the grand statements about the centrality of evolution made by scientific and professional bodies. These people may be unsuitable as teachers and their staff development will involve "certification" to allow them to continue in teaching:
"Scientists concerned about the quality of evolution instruction might have a bigger impact in the classroom by focusing on the certification standards for high school biology teachers. Our study suggests that requiring all teachers to complete a course in evolutionary biology would have a substantial impact on the emphasis on evolution and its centrality in high school biology courses."This strategy smacks of a "big brother" intervention: if teachers do not conform, they will be 'processed' and if they persist in their folly they will not be allowed to practice their profession. The documentary Expelled has been treated as anti-science by many (e.g. by the AAAS) - but it is not. The film is documenting cases where academic freedom has been trodden underfoot by institutions and colleagues who consider that anyone with serious questions about the validity of evolutionary theory is unsuited to science. The lack of sensitivity to the disgraceful way good academics have been treated is a scandal, and the rapidity with which the charges are dismissed is also a disgrace. But, if this report is a valid indicator, the situation is not going to end with hounding good academics out of universities. Teachers with views that offend the powers-that-be are next.
Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait
Michael B. Berkman, Julianna Sandell Pacheco, Eric Plutzer
PLoS Biology, 6(5), 20 May 2008: e124 | doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060124
Excerpt: We [report] the first nationally representative survey of teachers concerning the teaching of evolution. The survey permits a statistically valid and current portrait of US science teachers that complements US and international surveys of the general public on evolution and scientific literacy and on evolution in the classroom. Between March 5 and May 1, 2007, 939 teachers participated in the study, either by mail or by completing an identical questionnaire online. Our overall response rate of 48% yielded a sample that may be generalized to the population of all public school teachers who taught a high school-level biology course in the 2006-2007 academic year, with all percentage estimates reported in this essay's tables and figures having a margin of error of no more than 3.2% at the 95% confidence level. [. . .] Our results confirm wide variance in classroom instruction and indicate a clear need to focus not only on state and federal policy decisions, but on the everyday instruction in American classrooms.
Holmes, B. 16% of US science teachers are creationists, New Scientist.com, 20 May 2008.
Teaching evolution: Legal victories aren't enough, EurekAlert, 19-May-2008.
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