Monday, October 27, 2008

Teaching Evolution

Interesting article in today's AJC about a conference of high school biology teachers at Emory last week who discussed the problems of teaching evolution.

Teachers Say Covering Evolution Can Be A Trial:

Some students burst into tears when a high school biology teacher told them they’d be studying evolution. Another teacher said some students repeatedly screamed “no” when he began talking about it.

Other teachers said students demanded to know whether they pray and questioned why they had to learn about evolution if it was just a theory.

About 60 public high school teachers from the Atlanta area were at Emory University last week, swapping stories about the challenges they face when teaching evolution.

They said students often walk in with grave misconceptions about the subject, and many parents fear teachers will tell kids that they can’t have their religious beliefs.

Teaching evolution has long stoked a debate over science and religion in public schools. Some view it as incompatible with their religious views about how God created the universe and human beings.
The problem with stories such as this is we usually put the emphasis on how closed-minded or fundamentalist the students and their parents are without taking into account the beliefs of the teachers. What this article doesn't mention is that a significant percentage of high school biology teachers, 25% to be exact, either "don't believe in evolution" or offer "no opinion" when asked.
We also asked teachers whether they spent classroom time on creationism or intelligent design. We found that 25% of teachers indicated that they devoted at least one or two classroom hours to creationism or intelligent design. Of the 25% of teachers who devoted time to creationism or intelligent design, nearly half agreed or strongly agreed that they teach creationism as a “valid scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species.” Nearly the same number agreed or strongly agreed that when they teach creationism or intelligent design they emphasize that “many reputable scientists view these as valid alternatives to Darwinian Theory."
That so many high school biology teachers fail to grasp the basics of evolution (and put stock in clearly non-scientific alternatives) indicates the problem may be one of higher education as well. If our universities aren't doing a very good job at preparing science teachers to teach secondary school evolution, I wonder what percentage of college grads in general think evolution is "just a theory" or who think ID or Creationism are "valid scientific" alternatives?

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