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← High School Biology Teachers in U.S. Reluctant to Endorse Evolution in Class, Study Finds

High School Biology Teachers in U.S. Reluctant to Endorse Evolution in Class, Study Finds - Comments

markymarkmagic's Avatar Comment 1 by markymarkmagic

‎"That defense is always... 'But evolution is only a theory'. Which is true. I mean, it is a theory, and it's good that they say that, I think. It gives you hope, doesn't it? That, maybe they feel the same way about the theory of gravity.....and they might just float the fuck away."

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 15:02:14 UTC | #585261

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 2 by crookedshoes

I just started two new groups of students (we are on "block scheduling"). The VERY VERY first thing I say to EVERY new class is :

"I am currently lobbying to have this course renamed from "Biology" to "Evolution", because that is what we will talk about from this moment until the moment you walk out of here." I then give them the following essay:

I Am Evolution by Holly Dunsworth

May 11, 2008. I believe evolution. It's easy. It's my life. I'm a paleoanthropologist. I study fossils of humans, apes and monkeys, and I teach college students about their place in nature.

Of course I believe evolution.

But that is different from believing in evolution.

To believe in something takes faith, trust, effort, strength. I need none of these things to believe evolution. It just is. My health is better because of medical research based on evolution. My genetic code is practically the same as a chimpanzee's. My bipedal feet walk on an earth full of fossil missing links. And when my feet tire, those fossils fuel my car.

To believe in something also implies hope. Hope of happiness, reward, forgiveness, eternal life. There is no hope wrapped up in my belief. Unless you count the hope that one day I'll discover the most beautifully complete fossil human skeleton ever found, with a label attached saying exactly what species it belonged to, what food it ate, how much it hunted, if it could speak, if it could laugh, if it could love and if it could throw a curveball. But this fantasy is not why I believe evolution — as if evolution is something I hope comes true.

After all the backyard bone collecting I did as a child, I managed to carve out a career where I get to ask the ultimate question on a daily basis: "Where did I come from and how?"

If our beliefs are important enough, we live our lives in service to them. That's how I feel about evolution. My role as a female Homo sapiens is to return each summer to Kenya, dig up fossils, and piece together our evolutionary history. Scanning the ground for weeks, hoping to find a single molar, or gouging out the side of a hill, one bucket of dirt at a time, I'm always in search of answers to questions shared by the whole human species. The experience deepens my understanding not just about what drives my life, but all our lives, where we came from. And the deeper I go, the more I understand that everything is connected. A bullfrog to a gorilla, a hummingbird to me, to you.

My belief is not immutable. It is constantly evolving with accumulating evidence, new knowledge and breakthrough discoveries. For example, within my lifetime, our history has expanded from being rooted 3 million years ago with the famous Lucy skeleton, to actually beginning over 6 million years ago with a cranium from Chad. The metamorphic nature of my belief is not at all like a traditional religious one; it's more like seeing is believing.

So I believe evolution.

I feel it. I breathe it. I listen to evolution, I observe it and I do evolution. I write, study, analyze, scrutinize and collect evolution. I am evolution.

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 15:10:35 UTC | #585265

sunbeamforjeebus's Avatar Comment 3 by sunbeamforjeebus

Surely as a biology teacher you must have a degree in biology and previously A level and O level biology(here in the U.K. anyway)or similar.To do a science based degree you will need also a couple of complementary A levels such as chemistry,geograhy etc.How then,after a minimum of some 18 years of schooling can you still not believe fact when you see it? If you can't discern scientific fact from bullshit you have no right to be a science teacher ! What is it about experimentation,learning to use proof to support theory and accepting overwhelming and consistent result with overwheming supporting evidence,specimens etc they don't get? Only the religious wingnut would not get it ,How do these people get their jobs?Who is interviewing them?

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 15:25:49 UTC | #585273

JS24's Avatar Comment 4 by JS24

I have to say this is one of the reasons we homeschool. I know there are the religious crazies that use homeschool to shelter their kids, but there is a growing secular homeschool movement her in the states (I'm sure it's quite small, but we are working on that) for this very reason.

If I am going to end up supplimenting this because they won't get it in school, I may as well do it from the beginning. I would argue that my elementary children are better informed on evolution than most of their school attending cohorts who think evolving is what their pokemon do to get from one form to another. And I have learned so much having to teach it to them.

There are some great teachers out there, but there is a feeling that many people go into teaching because they couldn't cut it in other degree programs. The requirements for becoming a teacher are not strong enough in the US, and since the pay is crap, you don't usually attract the best of the best. And clearly the science reqirements are not rigid enough.

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 15:28:24 UTC | #585276

Aztek's Avatar Comment 5 by Aztek

What? What is this? It shouldn't be about "endorsing" like it's a contract for sports drink advertising. Evolution is a completely vital part of biology and should automatically be included. How can one choose not to? If a teacher decides not to teach evolution he or she is failing at her job.

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 15:30:32 UTC | #585278

ridelo's Avatar Comment 6 by ridelo

I would like to be a student in such a teacher's class. What would they say if I asked with big, innocent eyes: "How come a zebra looks so much like a horse?"?

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 15:45:45 UTC | #585285

glenister_m's Avatar Comment 7 by glenister_m

Everytime I hear stories like this it annoys me since, even though my degree is in Biology, after over 10 years of teaching high school I still haven't had the opportunity to teach senior biology (grade 11 or 12). This is partially due to the fact that the senior courses don't come available all that often, and are usually claimed by teachers senior to me at the school. So while I've taught all the junior general science courses, and Earth Science/Geology (which few others want, or are comfortable teaching), I can see myself retiring without ever teaching it.

So I hear stories of biology teachers in the U.S. who don't (or won't) teach evolution, and wish that I had their jobs so that I could. I'd also enjoy debating the issue with any creationist parents.

Unfortunately despite the possible increase in pay and potentially warmer climate, I have 3 kids under 6, a much better Canadian health care system, live in a country that doesn't worship guns, and that has schools without metal detectors. So until the kids are older, or some of that changes, I'll continue to hope for a biology position here and gripe about it until then.

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 15:53:42 UTC | #585289

CarlaTrumper's Avatar Comment 8 by CarlaTrumper

Not suprising for America. I think this should be tied into Professor Dawkins' discussion on "Should Employers be Blind to Private Beliefs".
I understand that it is wrong to discriminate based on religious beliefs (understand, do not agree) so this raise's broad questions in regards to the education system in the US. Where do you draw the line with adults/teachers who refuse to teach documented facts because they "believe" otherwise. Must we now start vetting our teachers on their so called faith before hiring? (sigh)

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 15:55:26 UTC | #585290

Topher's Avatar Comment 9 by Topher

Comment 3 by sunbeamforjeebus :

Surely as a biology teacher you must have a degree in biology and previously A level and O level biology(here in the U.K. anyway)or similar.

I wish. My significant other is in high demand as a teacher because she's one of a very small number with a physics degree, a math degree, and a master's in education. Unfortunately, because the pay isn't that great, the working conditions are often horrible, and the support is non-existent, she teaches adults at a for-profit technical college instead. I know that in my school, my biology teacher did have a biology degree, but my chemistry teacher also had a biology degree and my physics teacher had a degree in mathematics (fortunately, he was brilliant, so every student in my class got top marks on advanced placement tests).

There's a glut of non-technical teachers but a severe shortage of teachers of math and science in the U.S., and the current system is not likely to change that any time soon.

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:02:43 UTC | #585294

Monkey Man's Avatar Comment 10 by Monkey Man

"High school Physics Teachers in U.S. Reluctant to Endorse Round Earth in Class, Study Finds"

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:05:53 UTC | #585295

Vorlund's Avatar Comment 11 by Vorlund

I'm not from the US. Are these teachers deliberately promoting creationism in the face of a requirement not to? Have the court cases set precedent so that creationism is banned and evolution teaching is compulsory? Or are they just ignorant and without recourse to good classroom materials that would assist the teaching of evolution?

Like most subjects taught in schools in the UK, biology is taught axiomatically so that the student gets to acquire a set of facts to answer exam questions. I suspect the excuse is there is no time to cover evolution or it isn't in some exam boards syllabus so teachers don't bother. Biology doesn't count for much if it is not taught in the context of evolution which pulls a lot of the knowledge together in a meaningful way.

The route around this is legislation but being over controversial with education is not the kind of thing that most UK governments really like to do. I get the impression our governments like 'apparent' quasi-fixes of education that don't appear too much of a revolution. They'd also fight shy of the hullabaloo from the religious mob howling about the alternative view and the 'controversy'.

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:15:18 UTC | #585299

Daman345's Avatar Comment 12 by Daman345

Doesn't the USA have like a national curriculum or something? I don't really know about their school system, but won't the students be left helpless in a biology exam if a question requiring knowledge of evolution comes up? Or is it left up to individual schools to set their own exams?

Get these in the exam:

  • Describe and explain the process of natural selection, 15 marks
  • Explain why islands often have completely unique species, 8 marks
  • And you'd be screwed.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:33:29 UTC | #585304

    Don Quijote's Avatar Comment 13 by Don Quijote

    A teacher who teaches creationism and or intelligent design is an alternative to evolution is not a teacher. How do these people get to put forward religious belief in the name of science? Why do parents not complain about this, unless they want their children to grow up ignorant? Oh yes, I already said it, religion.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:40:18 UTC | #585306

    NealOKelly's Avatar Comment 14 by NealOKelly

    It's easy to lampoon, and sneer at, our American cousins but - if I'm honest - I don't actually recall being taught a great deal about evolution at school myself. Mendelian inheritance - yes. Its molecular basis - yes. But natural selection? Not really.

    And my A-level Biology teacher had a doctorate from Oxford and was certainly not a man of God.

    In fact, I think I had to wait until my second undergraduate year before being taught anything about the processes of evolution. Clearly evolution is central to all biology. But it doesn't necessarily follow that you need to understand how evolution operates (or even accept it)to learn facts about biology. And, at the end of the day, teachers teach to the syllabus. And the syllabus is very much about the "what" rather than the "how it came to be". If I had responded to question on on the Krebs cycle or oxidative phosphorylation in a Biochemistry 101 exam by talking about evolution, I would have got a big fat zero. And rightly so.

    The question is, how do we get teachers to cover what they need to cover in the syllabus but still convey the bigger picture?

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:41:52 UTC | #585308

    Rosbif's Avatar Comment 15 by Rosbif

    The very first science class (and English class ) should teach both meqanings of the word "theory". Scientific method and guess.

    Whenever someone says "I'm a Christian", I reply "Ah, that's just a guess"


    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:45:57 UTC | #585310

    Misfire's Avatar Comment 16 by Misfire

    Crookedshoes, I love it.

    I was doing a stint at an excellent middle school with some of the highest standards I know for education, the kind of place where the math teacher has you write an essay on your favorite number. Still, one moment that stings was the first time the science teacher broached evolution, preambling that it was only one theory, so he hoped he wouldn't have any legal trouble with parents.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:46:15 UTC | #585311

    BenM's Avatar Comment 17 by BenM

    Comment 12 by Daman345 :

    Doesn't the USA have like a national curriculum or something? I don't really know about their school system, but won't the students be left helpless in a biology exam if a question requiring knowledge of evolution comes up? Or is it left up to individual schools to set their own exams?

    Get these in the exam:

  • Describe and explain the process of natural selection, 15 marks

  • Explain why islands often have completely unique species, 8 marks And you'd be screwed.

  • US education is much less standardized than education is in many EU nations. National standards set by "No Child Left Behind" focus upon reading and math. Curricla in other courses is set by state or district. Furthermore, there are no national subject tests that I'm aware of besides the SAT subject tests, which some college/university departments want applicants to have taken, but even that requirement is also not universal.

    Essentially, if you have parents that would push you to take what we call Advanced Placement courses (a semester of college curriculum in a year of high school) then you're likely to get a good education. But, outside the basic reading/math there is no national accountability.

    Edit: The same sort of thing happens in colleges. Curriculum and required courses differ from university to university. If you want to be a teacher of a specific subject, your required courses are probably dictated by the state that you end up working in.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:47:09 UTC | #585312

    DaveGilbert's Avatar Comment 18 by DaveGilbert

    How did the US get from the genius of Richard Feynman and walking on the Moon to the stupidity of Sarah Palin and creationism?

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:48:40 UTC | #585314

    OpposableThumbs 's Avatar Comment 19 by OpposableThumbs

    My degree is in biology, and I taught biology and chemistry for six years. I taught biology from an evolutionary perspective (naturally), but I did work with someone that avoided it completely because he feared the attention that he would get from the hyper-religious in our small Alaska town. We agreed that he should no longer teach biology. I took over his biology courses and let him teach freshman science courses. I got plenty of flack from the community and even had parents complain to the principal because I had turned their children away from god, so I guess at least I knew I was being effective.
    Very religious students would challenge me in class sometimes with goddidit. I had no problem with very directly addressing that. Here is the problem though, although I gave my students the best education I could, I lost many students along the way. Parents started pulling students out of school and started homeskooling them. Hyper-religious students were often told by either parents or pastors to write god-type answers on evolution exams. Obviously, that earned them a failing grade and as biology is required in this state, they simply dropped out of school.
    This is clearly not good. The quality of education that they receive at home is questionable to say the very least. Altogether I estimate that I lost 10% of my students in one way or another. This was too depressing for an educator like me. I don’t teach anymore.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:49:10 UTC | #585315

    Misfire's Avatar Comment 20 by Misfire

    Topher brings to mind one more thought: Is it a coincidence that Plato taught Aristotle taught Alexander the Great? Invest in teachers.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:54:42 UTC | #585316

    BenM's Avatar Comment 21 by BenM

    Ars Technica interviewed Plutzer, one of the authors, which may be of interest.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:55:40 UTC | #585318

    Hendrix is my gOD's Avatar Comment 22 by Hendrix is my gOD

    They found only about 28 percent of those teachers consistently implement National Research Council recommendations calling for introduction of evidence that evolution occurred, and craft lesson plans with evolution as a unifying theme linking disparate topics in biology.

    How can a nation's science curriculum only be a recomendation, allowing teachers to reject it if they want! This is supposed to be an education system not a tax-funded soapbox for them to indoctrinate my children with their personal delusions. This is pathetic!!!

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:58:33 UTC | #585321

    OpposableThumbs 's Avatar Comment 23 by OpposableThumbs

    I tried but failed to edit #19, please forgive the typo.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 17:10:57 UTC | #585325

    RW Millam's Avatar Comment 24 by RW Millam

    This is what happens when devout theism isn't classified as a psychological problem. If a person was having delusions about leprechauns ruling the universe, or unicorns performing miracles, that person would be committed and would undergo treatment. Why does society think a Jehovah-based (Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, whatever) delusion is any different?

    And re: comment #2 (crookedshoes) -- good essay. "Believe" as opposed to "believe in" may solve the problem I've been having in using any form of the word "belief" as it related to science and other forms of reality.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 17:14:29 UTC | #585328

    Stevehill's Avatar Comment 25 by Stevehill

    I can to an extent sympathise with the "cautious 60%" who are not strong advocates for evolution. They may personally have no more doubts than Richard Dawkins does about the matter. But they are, in America, constrained by working in small-minded communities where there will often be strong parental and faith-group pressure (amplified by placemen on elected school boards): that pressure is not to throw doubt on Genesis. Ironically, the fear is that to do so is itself introducing religion into the classroom.

    Easier by far to tread warily, and keep your job.

    It is not the fault of teachers. It is the fault of a system which prevents them teaching by, effectively, permitting them to be hired and fired for spurious reasons.

    Full credit to Crookedshoes for his personal stance - but I think you've told us here before that you don't have to go too many miles south of Philadelphia to find the ground rules are wildly different, and where you personally probably could not survive teaching what you teach.

    Someone needs to put a large (metaphorical) bomb under America, shake the place silly, and tell them evolution is not a "belief" but a solid, incontrovertible body of science against which Genesis can only be seen as a pack of lies. Or if you want to be gentler about it, an allegory.

    Hell, even the Pope accepts evolution. What's with these people?

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 17:25:19 UTC | #585330

    crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 26 by crookedshoes

    RW Millam, Glad you liked it, I use it every year.

    Everyone, To teach Biology here in the US you have to (at the least) be a Biology Education major who passes the Praxis test in Biology. This means that you could take minimal Biology classes (like 4 to 6) as an undergrad and spend the rest of your studies learning about how to educate (largely full of classes that are a joke) and then pass the praxis by ONE POINT and become certified to teach.

    Once hired, you have to earn 6 positive evaluations in three years and you are permanently certified and tenured. If your supervisor (who may be a math teacher or english teacher) would evaluate you negatively for your take on evolution, then you are gonna keep your mouth shut of face being literally blackballed from teaching.

    I teach in one of the best environments possible. Our school is an over achieving lower socio economic school. We are dysfunctional; each staff member has their own idiosynchrasies, but when it comes to educating kids, we are tops. We set the standard for others to attempt to reach.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 17:29:56 UTC | #585331

    CarlaTrumper's Avatar Comment 27 by CarlaTrumper

    @OpposableThumbs, I'm sorry you do not teach anymore. Although, we need more teachers and parents to speak out on these issues in order for anything to change. In the end though, it starts at home. If the parent brainwashes a child with that way of thinking, well it's no wonder the US lags behind in crucial subjects.

    @Hendrix is my gOD - Yes, it is pathetic.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 17:37:59 UTC | #585336

    Mr. Rerek's Avatar Comment 28 by Mr. Rerek

    The problem that exists in America is one of critical thinking. The last decades have been aimed at entertaining people rather than informing or aiding in how they come to know the world. Perception is taken as seriously as facts and popular superstitions are entertained as seriously as the discovery of the human genome. Secondary schools are micro managed by politically based school boards where not only science is attenuated, but also literature. The result is what happened last night when I was tutoring my 12 year old niece. Her assignment was to mark the persons who aided in forming the atomic model. Not only was her knowledge concerning atoms sketchy, she was unaware of the most basic fact, that substances such as iron or copper do not have copper or iron atoms, but atoms in different arrangements. The trivialization of science has more to do with evolution not being understood than religious extremism. To fully grasp the magnificence of evolution is to be well versed in the disciplines of biology, chemistry, and geology - all woefully taught as separate and unrelated subjects in middle and secondary schools.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 17:53:23 UTC | #585342

    crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 29 by crookedshoes

    Mr. Rerek,

    How do we reach these kids? I mean, I get them in high school.... How do we reach them earlier????

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 18:11:30 UTC | #585346

    rrh1306's Avatar Comment 30 by rrh1306

    My biology teacher was a football coach. I guess he had some kind of biology training but you coulnd't tell. I remember him quickly brushing off evolution because it stupid to think that "an air bubble could be struck by lightning and create life". I also remember my 7th grade science teacher bring up the Paluxy river footprints (the supposed and debunked tracks of humans and dinosaurs walking togather) as proof of a young earth. It's a shame that there are large parts of the U.S. were the teaching of science has been corrupted by religious people with alterior motives.

    I wish scienctist in America would stage some kind of protest to bring this state of affairs to the media. Get people talking about it and get teachers, and school boards, and politians on record as to why they are or aren't teaching evolution propery in their state.

    Fri, 28 Jan 2011 18:16:20 UTC | #585348