The majority of public high school biology teachers are not strong classroom advocates of evolutionary biology, despite 40 years of court cases that have ruled teaching creationism or intelligent design violates the Constitution, according to Penn State political scientists. A mandatory undergraduate course in evolutionary biology for prospective teachers, and frequent refresher courses for current teachers, may be part of the solution, they say.
"Considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America's classrooms," write Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, professors of political science at Penn State, in today's (Jan. 28) issue of Science.
The researchers examined data from the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, a representative sample of 926 public high school biology instructors. 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.
In contrast, Berkman and Plutzer found that about 13 percent of biology teachers "explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light." Many of these teachers typically rejected the possibility that scientific methods can shed light on the origin of the species, and considered both evolution and creationism as belief systems that cannot be fully proven or discredited.
Berkman and Plutzer dubbed the remaining teachers the "cautious 60 percent," who are neither strong advocates for evolutionary biology nor explicit endorsers of nonscientific alternatives. "Our data show that these teachers understandably want to avoid controversy," they said.
The researchers found these teachers commonly use one or more of three strategies to avoid controversy. Some teach evolutionary biology as if it applies only to molecular biology, ignoring an opportunity to impart a rich understanding of the diversity of species and evidence that one species gives rise to others.
Using a second strategy, some teachers rationalize the teaching of evolution by referring to high-stakes examinations.
These teachers "tell students it does not matter if they really 'believe' in evolution, so long as they know it for the test," Berkman and Plutzer said.
Finally, many teachers expose their students to all positions, scientific and otherwise, and let them make up their own minds.
This is unfortunate, the researchers said, because "this approach tells students that well established concepts can be debated in the same way we debate personal opinions."
Berkman and Plutzer conclude that "the cautious 60 percent fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments." As a result, "they may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists."
The researchers note that more high school students take biology than any other science course, and for as many as 25 percent of high school students it is the only science course they will ever take, even though a sound science education is important in a democracy that depends on citizen input on highly technical, consequential, public policies.
Berkman and Plutzer say the nation must have better-trained biology teachers who can confidently advocate for high standards of science education in their local communities. Colleges and universities should mandate a dedicated undergraduate course in evolution for all prospective biology teachers, for example, and follow up with outreach refresher courses, so that more biology teachers embrace evolutionary biology.
"Combined with continued successes in courtrooms and the halls of state government, this approach offers our best chance of increasing the scientific literacy of future generations," they conclude.
Penn State: http://live.psu.edu
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I found this a little disconcerting and I do not even live in America, but I would hope that the 'debate', if you can call it that, about evolution was left out of the science class and if means must had in religious philosophy. Evolution as a scientific principle is, in my mind, not up for debate. I do however sympathize with those 60% whom do not want to have the burden of being attacked simply for teaching an idea or scientific theory but I think it is something they should quite frankly, embrace. I personally would not go into education knowing that some people will fundamentally disagree with what is taken as a fact and not be willing to challenge them on their erroneous beliefs. That is part of the beauty of science, liberating people for personal opinions on reality.
Then again this sort of arrangement might make it easier for me to get a post doc position in America...
The evidence of evolution is undeniable and as presented I think it's right, but blind obedience to a concept because authorities say it's so is perpetuating blind following without question. The way this article paints teaches that tell the students to come up with their own conclusion based on the give evidence in a negative light just boggles my mind. How can any that are intelligent and enlightened demand that we accept something because they say so. At one point in time it was thought speed in excess of 25mph would cause the ocular nerve to detach from the eye, that spontaneous generations could happen, the existence of aether was common sense, or even Einstineins's static universe. My point isn't to debunk evolution or to be and advocate of something as silly as creationism, it's to point out the arrogance in telling people to not question facts and push excepted concepts to the limits, how else will we learn more about our world and universe?
Complete fail. If you are a BIOLOGY TEACHER and are afraid to teach biology in your class, then what in the &*%$ were you doing for all those years in colledge?
I wish people would stop complaining about the failing of our system and would start presenting information for just what in the blue hell I can do to help fix it. Point me at a place to go and talk sense, and I'll do it.
"I wish people would stop complaining about the failing of our system and would start presenting information for just what in the blue hell I can do to help fix it. Point me at a place to go and talk sense, and I'll do it."
Did you bother to read this article? It proposed several suggestions.