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What do Biology teachers teach our children? This has been an ongoing subject of discussion by my Scibling PZ Meyers for years. I would like to add a comment, based on a paper in this week’s Science.

A study just published in Science indicates that while creationism may have been defeated in the courtroom, it is still a matter of contention in the classroom. The authors refer to a portion of biology teachers as the “cautious 60%”:

majority of teachers, the “cautious 60%,” who are neither strong advocates for evolutionary biology nor explicit endorsers of nonscientific alternatives?


According to the Science paper:

Creationism has lost every major U.S. federal court case for the past 40 years, and state curricular standards have improved (2). But considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America’s classrooms, where instruction in evolutionary biology “has been absent, cursory, or fraught with misinformation”

The data reveal a pervasive reluctance of teachers to forthrightly explain evolutionary biology.

Why would biology teachers be reluctant to teach something scientific?

The authors explain:

The data further expose a cycle of ignorance in which community antievolution attitudes are perpetuated by teaching that reinforces local community sentiment.

in the 15% most socially conservative school districts, nearly 4 in 10 teachers personally do not accept human evolution (compared with 11% in the least conservative districts) and, consequently, devote only minimal time to evolutionary biology in their classes

We estimate that 28% of all biology teachers consistently implement the major recommendations and conclusions of the National Research Council

I wonder about the other 72% of biology teachers? What is it that they are teaching our children?

The cautious 60% may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists. The strategies of emphasizing microevolution, justifying the curriculum on the basis of state-wide tests, or “teaching the controversy” all undermine the legitimacy of findings that are well established by the combination of peer review and replication. These teachers fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments, even if unintentionally.

What do they recommend?

Outreach efforts primarily benefit teachers who want to be helped, so expanding the corps of science teachers who want to be helped is critical. Thus, focusing on the preservice stage may be “the most effective way for scientists to help to improve the understanding of evolution” [p. 332 (12)]. Better-trained teachers will be able to more effectively take advantage of details in their textbooks and supplementary material published by the National Academy of Sciences and to put aside fear of reactions and pressures from members of their communities. It would also make them more critical advocates for high-quality standards and textbooks. Combined with continued successes in courtrooms and the halls of state government, this approach offers our best chance of increasing the science literacy of future generations.

Bottom line: The most effective teachers engage their students by sharing their passion for the subject and including the most current information in their field. Let us not mix science with other subjects such as religion that warrant separate attention. Of course, it is far easier said than done.

Comments

  1. #1 Jimmy
    January 27, 2011

    You forgot to mention that in churches and Sunday School rooms across America and in living rooms across America church leaders and parents are teaching their kids to ignore evolution and focus on Biblical literacy – creationism. Creation is the root of Christianity.

    When teachers undermine the entire Christian religion by teaching that it’s very core never existed, then that becomes a problem for parents of faith. Thus, the opposition to evilution rises.

    The Gospel of Jesus Christ is rooted in Genesis – creation. It was what happened after Adam and Eve sinned that warranted the need for Christ to die on the cross and rise again on the third day. Christmas, Easter, and Creation are all tied together. If you undermine Genesis, then you undermine the entire religion including the religion of Islam and Judaism since all three religions/sects started with one man – Abraham.

    Christians view Genesis as a literal history of the earth and all its inhabitants. Then when schoolboards demand that students dump that belief to worship an idol (darwin), parents become upset.

    Be it known, that no matter how hard anti-christians try to remove religion from America, parents and churches will continue to oppose evolution, homosexuality, and all other sins and human induced ideas of evil. Of course there are some apostate churches that accept evolution and homosexuality as normal, but they are not part of the real church. They are apostates as described in the book of Revelation.

  2. #2 Scott Fanetti
    January 28, 2011

    @Jimmy – Is it your belief that a story generated by stone aged tribes to describe the limited view of the world they possessed should trump the whole of modern science? Every piece of technology you own is at its core only possible because the pursuit of science yielded information we can trust about the world. We know science to be testable – and when it does not match with reality it is refined to match reality closer. It is not based on a tribal lore passed around a campfire when the sun was a chariot in the sky.

  3. #3 Walter
    January 28, 2011

    @Jimmy

    The bible also says that the world is flat. Is this something you want your children to learn as well? How about the part about slavery being okay? Or the part about stoning your children to death for disobedience?

  4. #4 Eric Lund
    January 28, 2011

    @Jimmy:

    No, literal belief in Genesis is not a requirement for Christianity. There are many religious people, including Christians and Jews, who accept that Genesis is a creation myth. This was quite a bit more common in the area where I grew up than was Biblical literalism. Is your faith so fragile that it cannot withstand the teaching of empirical facts in public schools?

  5. #5 herp n. derpington
    January 28, 2011

    @jimmy

    no u

  6. #6 Jim Thomerson
    January 28, 2011

    My university department required biology secondary education majors to take a junior level course in evolution. When I taught the course I spent a lecture or two discussing creationism, because I knew our graduates would be confronted with it sooner or later.

  7. #7 Jeff
    January 28, 2011

    Makes good sense! Thank you for the comment.

  8. #8 Jimmy
    January 28, 2011

    @ walter

    What particular verse says that the earth is flat? I have never heard of this verse. Isaiah the prophet talked about the “circle” of the earth. Even Isaiah knew the earth was round 800 years BC.

    Can you cite the particular reference to a flat earth in the Bible?

    As for slavery being ok, I alos doubt if the Bible ever okayed slavery. There were rules about how master should treat their slaves, but at the same time you must realize that not all slaves were “slaves”. In the Old Testament jewish laws, if a person becoame indebted to another to the point that he could not repay his debts with money, animals, etc, he could offer himself as a servant to repay a debt. Many times liberals confuse slaves with servants. A servant was one who offered his services in order to repay a debt. A slave was either born into slavery through slave parents or were people who were aptured during war and were used by that government to provide free labor as slaves. Often times, the successor to the reigning king would allow the slaves to go free (even though they may have been there 40 years) and return to their homeland.

    Liberals know very little about Old Testament slavery becuase they fail to do their research and fail to read it as it is written.

    Again stoning children for disobedience was not God’s law. It was a jewish law. Many of these things in which liberals speak of including the death of homosexuals were all jewish laws, not God’s laws. Again, read some history, people. God’s laws to the jews after they exited slavery in Egypt were the Ten Commandments. These commandments were added to by jewish councils, religious leaders, etc. The original laws were the Ten Commandments. Many laws in which liberlas harrass conservatives over not following were Old Testament jewish laws, not part of what God gave the people.

    Once Jesus came onto the scene those old laws were to be done away with. This is the New Testament, not the old now. Even though homosexuality is still a sin in both testament, Jesus never condemned them to death. Paul, in Romans 1 spoke of these sins. So did others. Only jewsih law condmened homosexuals to death. However, God did destroy Sodom and Gomorrah over rampant unrepentant homosexual sins. We still should not take these sins or any other lightly.

    ——

    @ Eric. I am well aware of apostate churches. Avoid them at all costs.

  9. #9 pough
    January 29, 2011

    Isaiah the prophet talked about the “circle” of the earth. Even Isaiah knew the earth was round 800 years BC.

    So can round things not be flat, or do you honestly believe that the Earth is not an oblate spheroid after all?

    Many times liberals confuse slaves with servants.

    Well yes, but as I’m sure you know yourself it’s a fine line between clever and stupid. Seriously, though, can I quote you on that? That’s a brilliantly confused sentence.

  10. #10 DuaneBidoux
    January 30, 2011

    Wow, I never have seen such anti-science sentiment at a scientific website. I don’t pretend to be an expert on religion or Christianity but I fail to see why Genesis is so necessary for Christians to believe in literally.

    I remember one verse in particular: “By the breath of God frost is given: and the breadth of the waters is straitened.” Job 37:10. So here is my question: is that how frost was done only the first time before it started being done the way it is now? And when the water calms down that’s because God quit blowing?

    Here is a funny thing: in the Bible there were just hundreds of cases of demonic possession but apparently epilepsy didn’t exist yet. Now that epilepsy has appeared all those demonic possessions seem to have gone away.

    But for me here is the biggest and scariest problem of all: If God doesn’t know enough to keep people from coming to the same place to worship him for healing when there is a plague sweeping the population I don’t think he is a God I want to put my faith in. I kinda’ think missing germ theory is a big deal if you’re God.

    How could these guys know so much about how the Earth was created but nothing about how things worked during their lifetimes? Talk about a gap in knowledge.

    The Bible is beautiful poetry, and I am not saying that God doesn’t exist, but this is a Bronze Age book for goodness sake. Humans knew virtually nothing.

  11. #11 John
    January 30, 2011

    Wow, I never have seen such anti-science sentiment at a scientific website. I don’t pretend to be an expert on religion or Christianity but I fail to see why Genesis is so necessary for Christians to believe in literally.
    I remember one verse in particular: “By the breath of God frost is given: and the breadth of the waters is straitened.” Job 37:10. So here is my question: is that how frost was done only the first time before it started being done the way it is now? And when the water calms down that’s because he quit blowing?
    Here is a funny thing: in the Bible there were just hundreds of cases of demonic possession but apparently epilepsy didn’t exist yet. Now that epilepsy has disappeared all those demonic possessions seem to have gone away.
    But for me here is the biggest and scariest problem of all: If God doesn’t know enough to keep people from coming to the same place to worship him for healing when there is a plague sweeping the population I don’t think he is a God I want to put my faith in. I kinda’ think missing germ theory is a big deal if you’re God. How could these guys know so much about how the Earth was created but nothing about how things worked during their lifetimes? Talk about a gap in knowledge.
    The Bible is beautiful poetry, and I am not saying that God doesn’t exist, but this is a Bronze Age book for goodness sake. Humans knew virtually nothing.

  12. #12 Renee
    January 30, 2011

    And yet you decry homeschooling. I’m planning to homeschool for a number of reasons, and this is one of them. With an MS in evolutionary biology, I’m far more qualified to teach my kids science than most teachers.

  13. #13 DuaneBidoux
    January 30, 2011

    Homeschooling as a concept is okay–just not for most parents.

    My son’s AP chemistry class required extensive tutoring for my son. His mom (my ex) is a composite materials engineer with a specialty at the MS level of polymers. She still had to brush up extensively to tutor him (sure she had learned it long ago).

    And critiques of American poets and British authors and English grammar not to mention American history and government.

    I am glad for your brilliance and ability to replace the content areas of a least five disciplines but trust me this is not the case for most parents who are far more illiterate than, God forbid, their children’s high school teachers.

    Public schooling isn’t, and can never be, for the gifted and the parents of those gifted children. I’m sure you’ll do fine.

    But the average parent is watching American Idol right now, not on Scienceblogs.

  14. #14 Eric
    January 31, 2011

    Big Evolution Discovery !

    British professor Nigel Swiggerton of Chapsworth College has recently found a missing link in the evolution/creation debate. Everyone is familiar with the “stages of man” chart found in textbooks which begins with a naked, hairy, bent over, grunting Neanderthal type which over millions of years finally learns how to stand erect while sporting a 1930s-style haircut. Well, Dr. Swiggerton discovered that someone accidentally reversed the negative. It turns out that the first man was actually standing erect with a short haircut but has been descending over the years until he has finally reached the last stage – the stage at any rock concert filled with naked, hairy, bent over, grunting Neanderthal types!

  15. #15 dean
    February 2, 2011

    I wonder how Jimmy decides which of the internally contradictory genesis stories to believe, or how he parses the numerous other contradictory stories in the Bible. (Asking why there should be faith in it when very little is historically supported, or written in the same time frame as the events it claims to document, or has been rewritten through the ages to fit the views of the folks in power would also be useless, i’m sure.)

    I’d be interested in seeing a study on how the current level of education on evolution compares with previous decades. I know my 10th grade biology teacher flat out said “I won’t cover this, it shouldn’t even be in a book” – and that was 1972(ish).

    There’s always been people who prefer to keep themselves ignorant of the science of the universe around them, and a subset of those want to extend that ignorance to others. I don’t know whether they are more prevalent now or whether they feel more confident that they won’t be called on their actions.

  16. #16 Jim Thomerson
    February 4, 2011

    Here is a site which discusses a whole range of ideas about the shape of the earth. http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/flat/flateart.htm

    To be biblical, Revelations 7-1 mentions the four corners of the earth. The earth is a solid body, and a solid body with four corners is a tetrahedron. Why, then, is there a Flat Earth Society and no Tetrahedral Earth Society? Sounds like an overlooked niche market to me. :-)