Evolution in the H.S. classroom

Saw this awhile ago on Science and Politics, but it keeps getting pushed down the line of my entries. See what a panel of high-schoolers has to say about creationism, intelligent design, and evolution. I guess it should be considered a small victory that at least the word “evolution” isn’t forbidden.

*sigh*

Comments

  1. #1 ChristieJ
    March 30, 2006

    That was depressing.

    *makes mental note to go over all of this with daughter AGAIN*

  2. #2 Dave S.
    March 30, 2006

    On the whole I was rather positively impressed with the panel (except for your namesake Tara!). There was a little too much of the “we should teach both” attitude, so clearly it needs to be emphasized more that only one of the 2 views expressed currently has a scientific basis in fact.

  3. #3 Dave S.
    March 30, 2006

    Just to clarify…when I say I was positively impressed, I mean that I was more pleased with what was said than what I thought they might have said before reading the thing.

    Obviously, there’s still a long ways to go.

  4. #4 Tara C. Smith
    March 30, 2006

    Yeah, I’ve seen worse, but maybe the fact that one doesn’t look quite as bad is because our expectations are for more of the Taras? I mean, this is a self-selected group of kids who applied to be on the panel to discuss this topic–what of just the average joes in the class, y’know?

  5. #5 coturnix
    March 30, 2006

    I mean, this is a self-selected group of kids who applied to be on the panel to discuss this topic–what of just the average joes in the class, y’know?

    Yup, that’s what I thought. These are the kids who have thought about the topic beforehand. Most other kids did not and, if asked, would likely parrot something they heard at home or in church.

  6. #6 Dave S.
    March 30, 2006

    Tara writes:

    Yeah, I’ve seen worse, but maybe the fact that one doesn’t look quite as bad is because our expectations are for more of the Taras?

    I think Tara Reid lowered that bar sufficiently for all Taras throughout all time, so that we don’t have such an expectation. :)

    I mean, this is a self-selected group of kids who applied to be on the panel to discuss this topic–what of just the average joes in the class, y’know?

    The non-joiners are probably of mixture of shy baniacs who know this stuff inside out but don’t want to participate in panel discussions – and slackers who would suggest we teach both not because they’ve thought about it and have strong feelings, but because that sounds like a safe middle-of-the-road thing to say. At least that’s what it would have boiled down to in my high school.

  7. #7 Lou FCD
    March 30, 2006

    “Tom: Science is based on making up hypotheses and testing those hypotheses based on facts and observations or experiments and revising your hypotheses until you can reach an adequate conclusion.

    Intelligent design is not a scientific theory. It’s not based on any facts, and it makes predictions that can’t be tested by science. Basically it’s packaged creationism, which would imply a belief that God willingly — or intelligently — designed us, which is outside of the bounds of science.

    The word “theory” in its common usage means just a guess or hunch, but when you say it within the scientific realm it’s a set of explanations that connects facts and makes predictions.

    Microevolution — we can see it going on with moths that change color based on pollution in the air.

    Macroevolution we can’t observe directly, but there are so many facts and evidence supporting it that nearly all the scientists in the world believe it, and especially those related with geology and biology and earth science.

    The only thing that’s come into debate about evolution with scientists are the details of it, like whether birds and dinosaurs share some sort of common ancestor or how their evolutionary history is linked.

    But intelligent design is not science and doesn’t belong in a science classroom. ”

    Looks like Tom at least has a decent science teacher.

  8. #8 Scott Kirwin
    March 30, 2006

    Who cares what kids think? Really! Ask them whether they like their vegetables – or brushing their teeth – and see what answers you get.

    They don’t vote – and won’t for a long time (the older you are, the more likely you are to vote). They don’t know what’s good for them. So why get upset about this?

    I’ll tell you why. Our society likes to think about children as miniature adults. We dress them like adults. We show them the same movies as adults. We even treat them like adults (and yes, parents are the guiltiest parties here).

    But children aren’t adults: they are children.

    They should not have any choice in their curriculum and should be force fed Science as necessary. The purpose of education is to civilize the little b******s whether they like it or not.

    Clearly these kids’ parents are too lazy to actually parent them – which is a shame.

  9. #9 coturnix
    March 30, 2006

    I do not think of teens as little adults nor do I think that school is a democracy in which kids can decide what’s on the curriculum (video games, hip-hop?).

    But beliefs of kids are indicators of the beliefs of their parents, and are habringers of the beliefs of the adults of tomorrow. We should pay attention and, if we do not like what they think, do something to educate them better.

  10. #10 Rob Knop
    March 30, 2006

    Who cares what kids think?

    We should all care.

    Most of these kids are likely never to really discuss or think or learn about evolution (or, in many cases, much science at all) after their high school biology and other classes.

    If they aren’t learning it there, they aren’t going to learn it in a formal setting. They’ll learn it by reading the newspapers, where the focus is on the culutural controversy (which, unlike the putative scientific controversy over evolution, is real), and where journalists are trained to show “both sides”.

    Additionally, high school kids aren’t “little kids” any more. No, they’re not the same as adults, but they are well on their way to developing the ability to think for and form considered opinions on deep subjects for themselves, so it is worth listening to them.

    -Rob

  11. #11 Zeno
    March 30, 2006

    Little Katie has been reading her creationist catechism: “And as far as evolution goes, macroevolution is still a hypothesis and (according to) the scientific method, it hasn’t become an actual theory yet.” She’s doing her best to deliver the micro versus macro talking point, but still needs a little more practice.

    It is endlessly fascinating to me how creationists treat some of the works of science — namely, the scientific method and the second law of thermodynamics — as holy writ, but then try to lecture scientists on what they really mean. Make up your mind, buddy! If you want to base your arguments on science when you’re not scientifically trained yourself, you’re accepting the credentials of scientists as authorities in their field. It’s just a tad presumptuous to then turn around and argue with them over the meaning of their results. (Have you ever seen a coherent account of the second law in a creationist tract? Nevertheless, the creationists are just sure that a law they don’t understand is disproof of evolution.)

  12. #12 wheatdogg
    March 30, 2006

    Scott Kirwin —
    Did you miss the detail that these are high school students? We’re not talking about 8 year olds here. I have taught high school for 20+ years. While there are a few kids who might fit your description, they are in the minority. Most teens have pretty good heads on their shoulders, and have valuable insights worth listening to. Even the “troubled” ones have valuable things to say. Sure, they may not know enough about science to determine what should be taught, but we should at least listen to them. Your advice that children should be seen and not heard went out of fashion decades ago.

    Besides, it wasn’t that long ago that teenagers were necessary contributors to the family income. The idea of a protracted period of dependency called adolescence is a relatively new concept.

    I live in Louisville, and I am chagrined to admit this roundtable discussion slipped right past me. The demographics of this RT are interesting. Three are from single-sex Catholic schools, St. X, Presentation and Assumption. Eastern and Seneca are large county public schools, both within the city limits but essentially suburban in profile. Scottsburg (in Indiana), Central Hardin and E-town are in more rural areas in adjacent counties, but still pretty good sized. The populations there are more conservative and somewhat more religious than in Louisville, but not by much. Ky Country Day (one of my school’s rivals) is a swanky prep school east of Louisville, and predominantly Republican in political viewpoint.

    While Kentucky actually has a law on the books permitting public schools to teach creationism in science class, few teachers actually take advantage of the law. That not one of these kids’ bio teachers spend more than a few minutes on creationism or ID is very reassuring. I suspect the same is true throughout the rest of the commonwealth, but I have no proof.

    These kids serve on the RT for a school year, so this article is just one of several. The C-J solicits applications each fall. Most of the kids are “self-selected,” but some might be “encouraged” by school officials or parents to apply. Many are the high achievers in school (class presidents, Key Club and NHS members, etc.) but some are just kids who have opinions and can express them well.

  13. #13 wheatdogg
    March 30, 2006

    Forgot to mention. Tom, the biology expert, is from Ky Country Day, the prep school. Tara (Reid), the creationist, is from Scottsburg, Indiana, which is predominantly farm and exurban country. The responses from each of these two reflects their milieux, and should not be all that surprising. They only spend 180 hours, tops, in bio class. Home and church provide countless more hours of external influence.

    As a wild guess, not knowing either, Tom’s family probably attends a mainstream church, like Episcopal or Presbyterian. Tara’s probably Baptist or Pentecostal. We all know which churches accept evolution and which do not.

  14. #14 Dale
    March 31, 2006

    I think as long as kids are taught science as a bunch of words and concepts to be memorized and regurgitated on pieces of paper at regular interests, it’s not too surprising that some of them will see no real difference between the “facts” of evolution and the “facts” of biblical creation.

  15. #15 Mike Z
    March 31, 2006

    As reflected in the above comments, it’s hard to know where to be on the happy-sad continuum after reading the students’ remarks. High school kids (especially these self-selected ones) are adult enough to have serious ideas on these issues, but it is hard to know how well their words reflect their thoughts. Many of us already have several years of advanced education and are well-practiced at capturing the intricacies and implications of science. But as I learned from teaching high school biology, people of that age group sometimes have a hard time finding the best phrasing to capture their intuitions (especially orally and under pressure), and so they often end up lapsing into sound bites.

    Anyway, at least there weren’t any “histerical screeds” against dogmatic evolutionists.

  16. #16 Scott Kirwin
    March 31, 2006

    Wheatdogg
    Maybe you are around these kids alot which makes you sympathetic to their point of view, but I’m sorry, I may sound overly harsh when I write that I am completely aware of how old they are – and I still don’t care what they think – nor do I worry about the impact of their opinions.

    Are your opinions the same as those you had when you were 15 or even 18? I doubt it. Kids grow up – and will if we allow them to do so. But in their own time and at their own speed.

    Should they be allowed to express their opinions? Absolutely. However should we change anything because of those opinions?

    Nope.

    That doesn’t mean we should stop fighting the ID efforts – just that we shouldn’t worry about the opinions of children who really don’t understand themselves let alone their world.

    Unless it’s about hip-hop, I couldn’t care less about a youngster’s opinion if I tried.

  17. #17 Tara C. Smith
    March 31, 2006

    Scott, I strongly disagree with you. Sure, my opinions have changed on many issues since I was a teenager, but forming those opinions has all started with education–whether it was education I received formally in high school or college, or more informal education I received on my own in a different manner. I think it’s a big mistake to discount these kids because of their age.

    I also think you’re wrong about voting. Sure, the 18-to-25 set doesn’t vote as often as their elders, but writing them off altogether because they vote at a lower rate is again (IMO) a mistake. Some stats on younger voters:

    26,917,473 US citizens are between the ages 18-25

    16,123,566 or 59.9% of 18-25 year olds are registered to vote

    18-25 year olds make up 14.4% of the total eligible voters

    42% of 18-24 year olds cast a ballot in 2000

    In 2004:

    Youth voting surged by 11 percentage points in 2004. In presidential election years between 1972 and 2000, the turnout rate had declined by 16 percentage points among young citizens before rebounding by 11 percentage points in the 2004 election.

    In 2004, 47% of 18-24 year old citizens voted, 66% of citizens 25 and older voted.

    This is an area where a difference can be made, because the kids often are interested and are forming opinions on the issues. Granted, I agree with you that the impact of their opinions isn’t anywhere near as great as, say, the 55-year-old white male set, but that doesn’t mean we should write them off either.

  18. #18 Scott Kirwin
    March 31, 2006

    Hmmmm… The Spring day here in Philly got me thinking that maybe I’m arguing something else here – namely the value of a child’s opinion. I don’t see giving it the same weight as an adult’s.

    HOWEVER
    If we are going to use their opinion as an indicator for the state of science teaching in the USA – then I completely accept their validity as “canaries” in the education “coalmine”. And judging by their responses, then I would agree that something is seriously wrong with science education – which I have indeed argued at TheRazor.

    I’ll leave the Youth Vote off the table for now because that is a separate issue that harkens back to the weight I give a child’s opinion.

    BTW when I was 18 I voted for Walter Mondale. I’m glad my guy lost because now I’m a big Reagan fan!

  19. #19 wheatdogg
    March 31, 2006

    I was a Democrat then, and still am. (Although I voted for Anderson in ’80, on reflection perhaps a mistake). As for whether I think the same as I did in HS, for the most part I do. I’m more cynical than I was, but still somewhat optimistic about the future. As a counterexample, one of my closest friends from HS did a 180 degree turnaround and went from a peace-loving neo-hippie to a gun-toting Wall Street broker, as ultra-Republican as you can get.

    Of course people change. Some change more than others. So what? Does my opinion now count more than my opinion did 30 years ago, just because I’m “older and wiser”? I would argue that those middle-aged white males Tara mentions are no wiser than some 16 years olds I know. They may know more about the world than a 16-year-old does, but they may do no better in using that knowledge.

    Scott, your total dismissal of teens’ opinions as being essentially valueless is just way off base. Sure, I work with them on a daily basis, so I may be biased. Or maybe I know teenagers better than you do. That being said, no, we should not reconstruct education on the basis of what teenagers say. Far from it. Yet, the kids have insights that no PhD in education can possibly have. They know which teachers are good or bad, which care, which teaching methods work, what assignments have value and which are just busywork. They probably have no clue as to the relative importance of, say, Ohm’s Law and Newton’s Laws of Motion, in the grand scheme of things. It’s the teacher’s job to provide that information. That’s the role of education, to provide both content and context.

    Do you have kids? I do. We raised ours to be independent minded, and we listened to them whenever it was appropriate. I’m proud of them all. I teach some kids whose parents never listen to them and could give a rat’s ass about what their kids think. That attitude demeans the child, and I suspect damages the kid’s psyche. There’s plenty of troubled kids around who have never had an adult willing to listen to them. Income level, I am sad to report, makes no difference.

    This whole concept that people suddenly become fully aware, responsible, worthwhile members of adult society at the arbitrary age of 18 is just plain misguided. As I mentioned, historically this concept dates back probably only 100-120 years. It did protect children from exploitation (child labor laws) and ensure their education and “americanization” (compulsory schooling), but it left society with the prejudice that 16 year olds are no different than 8 year olds. It wasn’t true in 1890 and it’s not true now.

  20. #20 Scott Kirwin
    March 31, 2006

    Do you have kids? I do. We raised ours to be independent minded, and we listened to them whenever it was appropriate. I’m proud of them all. I teach some kids whose parents never listen to them and could give a rat’s ass about what their kids think. That attitude demeans the child, and I suspect damages the kid’s psyche. There’s plenty of troubled kids around who have never had an adult willing to listen to them. Income level, I am sad to report, makes no difference.

    There’s a difference between listening to children and acting on what you learn. I think we might be talking past one another here, but I’ll try again.

    I believe that it is wrong to treat children like mini-adults. Even the older ones like those you teach are still developing, and recent research in brain development suggests that physically the human brain may not stop growing until the mid-20s.

    If you want to delve into anthropology, no culture that I can think of allows young people to be responsible for important decisions. This is one reason why marriages were arranged – and continue to be so in some cultures – because older adults have perspectives that younger ones are blind to.

    Are these systems oppressive? Ask anyone who has participated in an arranged marriage and you’ll be surprised in how often you hear how pleased they were with the experience.

    I have kids and I want them to be independent minded. However I tailor what their choices are based on their age, and will not give up my parental responsibility until legally obligated to do so. Why am I such a bastard? Because I know that they are incapable of knowing what’s good for them. Of course, the older they get the more responsibility they have.

    However, I do not burden them with adult decisions. I might listen to their input on major decisions, but when our family makes a decision, the children aren’t responsible for it: only the Wife and I are.

    I have seen adults confide in their children because they had no one else. I’ve seen adults allow their children veto power over critical family decisions as in whether to move or which job to take. As a result parents have passed up jobs because their daughter didn’t want to break up with her teenage boyfriend – only to break up with him anyway a few weeks later.

    If you need to talk to someone, get a therapist – or better – a good friend. Don’t dump on your kids.

    Children are not our intellectual or emotional equals. Adults have the advantage of perspective that can even-out our emotions and impact our decisions. Perspective only comes through experience, and children as a whole lack it.

    This does not mean we can treat them badly. It’s exactly the opposite: we have to treat them better. We have a responsibility to care for them – not them to care for us. We have an obligation to nurture them – not for them to nurture us.

    Parenting is hard, but a child doesn’t care – nor should they. It’s not their task. Their task is to learn, and grow and chase their dreams knowing that there is an adult nearby to catch them should they fall.

  21. #21 windy
    March 31, 2006

    I believe that it is wrong to treat children like mini-adults. Even the older ones like those you teach are still developing, and recent research in brain development suggests that physically the human brain may not stop growing until the mid-20s.

    If you want to delve into anthropology, no culture that I can think of allows young people to be responsible for important decisions. This is one reason why marriages were arranged – and continue to be so in some cultures – because older adults have perspectives that younger ones are blind to.

    I’m sure the coming of age rites in most cultures traditionally happened well before the mid-20’s. Most peoples haven’t had the luxury of letting kids be kids for 30 years. And aren’t “teenagers” as a specific group quite a recent invention?

    Sure, elders had the power in many cultures, but the custom of arranged marriages didn’t probably develop purely out of altruism on the elders’ part, but to protect connections or wealth.

    And will these kids suddenly develop a much more mature view about teaching evolution when they reach adulthood? I don’t think so.

  22. #22 wheatdogg
    March 31, 2006

    Ah, well, now we’re on common ground. We never let the kids make decisions for themselves that were contrary to what we knew were correct. We chose their schools, controlled their food, TV, internet intake, etc., but we weren’t petty dictators.

    I too have seen parents who err on the other side of the permissiveness scale. They abdicate their responsibility as adults and parents. We have seen families whose teens actually serve as the parents, dumping a ton of responsibility on the child. Sometimes it’s the result of divorce, terminal illness, job loss or other situations beyond the parents’ control. Other times, it’s the result of parents being too selfishly wrapped up in their own lives to deal with their kids’ lives. I could tell stories …

    I agree with you on the parenting issue. I don’t agree with you on your evaluation of teenagers’ opinions, which was the original topic. I never said let the kids run the show. They are not our intellectual or emotional equals, as you say. But neither are they stupid. Their input should be taken into consideration and not dismissed wholesale. If you disagree with that idea, fine. Let’s agree to disagree, and leave it at that.

    As for the brain research you mention, I’ve read about the same studies in trade journals. There’s nothing new there; Piaget had similar conclusions ages ago. Some individuals mature sooner than others. Perhaps most of us never mature fully until 21, or even later. Still, Montessori schools work wonders with 4 year olds (my daughter being one of them 16 years ago) and schools that give their students some freedom and demand the responsiblity that goes with it work wonders with teenagers. Maturity comes from experience, not from the calendar.

  23. #23 Hank Barnes
    March 31, 2006

    This is an interesting discussion. One significant element missing, though, is the distinction between teaching practices (and constraints) at private high schools as opposed to public high schools.

    My general view is that the public educational system is all screwed up, and little is learned anyway.

    My general view is that there are oustanding private elementary and high schools, many of which are Catholic, which can teach anything they want.

    Purely anecdotal:

    I live in a blue city in a blue state, in a fairly upscale neighborhood.

    There’s not one kid on my block who attends public school (my kids included). Not one. These are all college-bound kids from upper-middle class, white liberal households.

    So, any discussion on what is or what is not taught in biology at the public schools is a bit off, since it misses the engines of education in this country, which are the private schools, the breeding grounds of future collegiates.

    Hank

  24. #24 wheatdogg
    March 31, 2006

    Hank, you’re painting with a broad brush here. I teach in a private school, loosely affiliated with the Episcopal Church. In our community, there are several other well respected private and parochial schools which one would also characterize as college-prep schools. We approach education in different ways, but largely we succeed in our mission to prepare students for college.

    The Jefferson County Public Schools, meanwhile, are actually not as bad as you suggest. The same is true elsewhere. True, the percentage of students they graduate who later attend college is lower than at the non-public schools. They have their problems. Some high schools are in high-crime areas (for Louisville) and require security guards and metal detectors, but the conditions here are nowhere as bad as those in larger cities like NYC and Dallas, for example. Yet, public schools do graduate students who attend college. get good jobs, even run for office.

    It’s a mistake to write off public education as irrelevant, as the vast majority of US citizens (I think it’s around 80%) graduate from public high schools. If in fact private school grads end up in positions of political and economic power (and I am not sure how valid that assumption is), we are still a democracy and the nation requires a well educated, well informed populace. So, talking about science education in public schools is fact worth the time.

  25. #25 Hank Barnes
    March 31, 2006

    Wheat,

    So, talking about science education in public schools is fact worth the time.

    Funny how some people respond.

    Y’all are fretting and worrying about teaching ID in high schools, omitting two salient data points:

    1. public high schools — particularly in large urban areas — are crap.

    2. private high schools can and do teach ID or creationism or whatever they want — and most parents who can afford it, send their kids to private high schools.

    Hell, in certain parts of Los Angeles, I read somewhere that the drop-out rate in public schools is approaching 50%!!!

    But, Yes, let’s continue to worry about creeping ID into the curriculum……

    Hank

  26. #26 wheatdogg
    March 31, 2006

    OK, Hank, I’ll bite. Are you saying that it is a waste of time to debate teaching ID in the public schools? That we should rather be worrying about teaching reading, writing and arithmetic? I would say teaching the three R’s does not require us to give science short shrift.

    While I do not agree that public schools are crap, there is no question that they have problems. According to this site, in 2001 only 68% of students graduated high school. So, forget about college prep here. Nevertheless, that 68% still has to know something about science, real science, not ID and creationism. The more attention we place on public school education, the better, regardless of the motivation.

    2. private high schools can and do teach ID or creationism or whatever they want — and most parents who can afford it, send their kids to private high schools.

    I’m not sure what private schools are like in your neck of the woods, but I know of none here that actually teach creationism or ID in biology class, or in any other class. And I live in a Bible Belt state. The exceptions are the Christian schools, of course.

    Kentucky law actually permits the teaching of creationism in public schools, though AFAIK no public school in my area does.

    Further, private schools do not operate in a vacuum. To award diplomas recognized by state universities, they have to abide by some minimal state dept. of education regulations. Teaching American history is one example. Additionally, private schools generally belong to some kind of accrediting body, which confirms their accreditation every several years. While there are no formal curricular requirements, accredited private schools offer fairly uniform curricula, geared toward college preparation. They are competing against each other for students, after all. The marketplace demands they teach essentially the same subjects.

    There is an unspoken expectation among independent schools that creationism and ID have no place in science classes. And, as I mention, even the parochial schools stick to evolution in science classes.

    Finally, non-public schools are exempt from most federal and state regulation, so even if they did teach ID and creationism, there is little we could do about it, legally. Besides, the pro-ID and pro-creationism camps have focused only on the public schools. They also realize that no one has any authority over private schools, other than the schools’ own boards of directors, administrations and parents.

  27. #27 wheatdogg
    March 31, 2006

    Aagh! Here I am trying to defend the public schools, and then I read about a public school teacher in Pennsylvania who has issued a challenge to “evolutionists” to debate him in public about creationism. Details and commentary are at
    Unscrewing the Inscrutable.

  28. #28 Scott Kirwin
    March 31, 2006

    And will these kids suddenly develop a much more mature view about teaching evolution when they reach adulthood? I don’t think so.

    Windy
    Sorry, but I’m the Neo-con here: I’m the one that’s supposed to hold negative opinions about people. ;)

    My god I hope you are wrong. Are you telling me that people stop growing, learning and thinking after they leave school? Hell, if you ask me I’d say that I didn’t start learning until after I graduated college. Granted, I’m a writer and intellectual but I would hope that people don’t have belief systems frozen in their youth.

    Are do they?

    So far we’ve cherry-picked anthropology. To grab some more low hanging fruit, remember that until relatively recently the norm for our society was multigenerational families with power concentrated near the top. I lived in Japan during the 1990s and the country was what America must have been like in the ’50s. I saw it there for myself.

    As for Wheat & Hank, I’m Jesuit educated – and proud of it. The Jebbies taught me Evolution and indoctrinated me in Science as a whole. I truly didn’t understand evolution until I read Stephen J. Gould 12 years after graduating. And suddenly I finally understood it (grasping the randomness was the hardest part and took me years to truly “get”).

    In St. Louis some of the public schools were just as good as my high school; others were terrible. I’m worried about my own kids here in Delaware because he’s in 3rd grade and still doesn’t “get” multiplication. I’ve spoken to other parents who’ve done what I’ve done: printed out multiplication tables in Excel and forced him to memorize them.

Current ye@r *