Monday, April 29, 2013

Teachers and Evolution: Coming Through the Back Door

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an interesting editorial on the creation/evolution question as it pertains to science teachers and, in the process, points out an insidious back-door approach that some teachers take. The article chronicles the experiences of a woman who took an AP course in biology that gave evolution short shrift.  When she got to college, she realized that she had been under-educated.  David Templeton writes:
Her experience represents the ill-kept secret about public school biology classrooms nationwide -- that evolution often isn't taught robustly, if at all. Faith-based belief in creationism and intelligent design continues to be discussed and even openly taught in public school classrooms, despite state curriculum standards.
This is not new per se. This particular issue has been fought in Louisiana, Tennessee, and, of course, in Pennsylvania.  But this represents an additional facet of the problem.  Even though quite a few teachers are following the mandate to not teach creationism, that does not cover how they teach evolution:
But Mr. Berkman said their most alarming finding was that teachers need not introduce creationism in class to undercut interest and belief in evolution."You just have to throw doubt and downplay evolution," he said. "The idea that teachers are doing a really weak job -- many a really weak job -- of introducing evolution, we think, is because of reactions they get and maybe because of the lack of confidence in what they are teaching. That especially is the case with evolution, where many students have been primed by parents and youth groups to raise difficult and challenging questions."
This produces students who have little to no knowledge of evolution when they reach college. If they skip through college with minimal biology (engineering majors, let's say) and then end up in school boards later in life, they won't have the knowledge to make educated decisions about how evolution should be taught.  Thus, the cycle simply continues.

Another issue at work is that high school teachers differ from college professors in how they are trained.  High school teachers go through a curriculum that is heavily geared toward the facets of pedagogy and less, if at all, towards the particular subject they will be teaching.  Basically, they are taught to be teachers, not biologists, or chemists, or what-have-you.  We ask how, of those polled, 19% of science teachers can believe in young-earth creationism?  That's how.  

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