Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Why Teachers Don’t Teach Evolution

Here’s an essay by a former teacher who recounts her experiences on the difficulty of teaching evolution.

I taught sixth grade in Texas for three years 2001-2004. During that time, I was absolutely warned to not begin to say the word “evolution” or we would have every preacher in the district, as well as the media, breathing down our necks, and then there would truly be no teaching or learning. Sadly, I needed the position, so I played the “hide the issue and hide the learning” game.

Every time I tell this story, usually at a dinner party, people look at me like I am reliving some ancient past. I remind them that this policy ruled only two years ago – and in their progressive community. Like many issues that are easier to disbelieve than to address, people inevitably choose disbelief.

I have no problem believing her. I’ve heard this same story from innumerable school teachers over the many years I’ve been involved in the fight to protect science education. I’ve heard time and time again from teachers who are intimidated into not teaching evolution at all, just skipping right over that section in the book, or into using euphemisms like “change over time” in order to avoid provoking the wrath of parents and local clergy.

Surveys of science teachers around the country show that a sizable percentage of them avoid the issue in order to avoid the controversy. Some choose to stand up and fight for what they know is right. One teacher here in Michigan told me at a science teacher’s convention that every year when he begins the section on evolution in his classes, he gets at least a few angry parents come to complain to him about it. He said he keeps a copy of the Edwards v Aguillard Supreme Court ruling on hand to show them.


  1. #1 Scott Hatfield, OM
    January 13, 2008

    I live a privileged existence, because I’ve taught evolution for seven years with no parental complaints, and I’m so gung-ho on the topic I easily spend three times the amount of time on it as my colleagues. But my school has excellent test scores and an educated demographic, so that probably insulates me a bit.

    Having said that, while I certainly wouldn’t let the possibility of parental backlash keep me from using the word ‘evolution’ in a 6th-grade class, I would not spend much time belaboring that topic because it isn’t in my state’s 6th-grade science standards. I would, however, defend an ancient earth as a necessary piece of the puzzle to plate tectonics, which is in the standards. I second the notion of having some reference to the law in this matter. An excellent reference is LaFollete’s Creationism, Science and the Law: The Arkansas Case.

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