Teachers Under Fire

i-6d830b7f85d83707170f6da2bd1804a3-teachers_under_fire.jpgIt is very common, across the U.S., for science teachers to dread the “evolution” unit that they teach during life science class. As they approach the day, and start to prepare the students for what is coming, they begin to hear the sarcastic remarks from the creationist students. When the day to engage the evolution unit arrives, students may show up in the classroom with handouts from anti-science sites like Answers in Genesis, to give to their friends. They may carry a bible to the lab station and read it instead of doing the work. If there is a parent conference night around that time, the teacher may be verbally abused by some of the parents for not including “alternative theories” in the classroom.

There IS a conspiracy …

If you analyze the language that is bandied about by the creationist children and parents, it is clear that they are all on the same page. They are getting their information from their local creationist group, or their pastor, or particular internet sites. If fighting evolutionary biology in schools was ever determined by the courts to be a political act (which it is) there are probably a lot of churches that would have their IRS tax status yanked!

One way to combat this is to be intellectually honest about the role of evolution in biology. These days, evolution tends to be compressed into a single textbook unit, and not discussed very much elsewhere in that text (this depends on the book). My suspicion is that by placing all of the discussion of evolutionary biology into one unit, it makes it easier for teachers to skip that chapter, or gloss it, or at least, deal with it as a very bad thing that is happening to them, work out some strategies to minimize the pain, and then move on.

In other words, when it comes to teaching evolutionary biology in the public school classroom, the creationists have won the battle: They’ve forced evolution into a corner, surrounded it, eviscerated, driven it into the swamp.

Since evolutionary biology actually relates to every other element of the life sciences, this is a terrible shame. Bowdlerizing every other part of the curriculum of any mention of evolution takes the life out of the life sciences. Details are taught without reference to ultimate explanation. The thread that would tie together a pedagogy to make it truly comprehensible and, in fact, awesome, is yanked out of the fabric of biology. Opportunities to skillfully explain, truly understand, fully appreciate the details of how life works are hidden from the students because evolution is forced into the closet of some specific chapter in the textbook, some specific week during the semester, some specific set of readings and maybe, but probably not even, a single experiment on the lab bench.

This would be like forcing the laws of motion into a single, oft skipped and always shortchanged lesson in an intro physics class, and otherwise never mentioning them. Or forcing the rules of grammar into one poorly attended exercise and a quick, optional quiz in 7th grade English. Or like addressing the role of faith in religion only in the April Fools day sermon, and avoiding the topic for the rest of the year, in a Christian church.

The same techniques of organizing an army of parents and children against the teachers is being seen, increasingly, in the area of Earth Sciences as well.

In Utah, but surely not only in Utah, public school science teachers are coming under fire, in some cases by the same folks who fought to keep evolution from the science curriculum, for showing Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, without presenting “both sides” of the “debate,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune. (For English class, read the Tribune report below with a skeptical eye: What questions did the reporter fail to ask?)
[source]

It is hard for teachers to know what to do under these circumstances. There are insufficient resources. I’ll tell you a story that I’ve told before but you may not remember. I once helped teach a particular class on “Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom” with Randy Moore and Mark Decker. (It was really their class, I just helped out with certain units). This was for teachers, as part of the now defunct Science Centrum teacher’s academy created and made wonderful by my good friend Rusty Low.

Over the next couple of years, two unrelated things happened to me. One, was that I would run into Mark in a lecture hall every week or so, because he taught a big intro class that ended just before the big intro class I taught started. So we would chat briefly now and then. The other was that I ran into and started to get to know a really fantastic biology teacher named Amanda. Amanda told me about the trouble she had in her classroom, with students pushing creationism, with sometimes lukewarm support from colleagues or administrators, and so on.

So one day, when I ran into Mark Decker in the lecture hall, I told him that I had a friend who was a biology teacher and was having the usual problems, and could not find the support she needed to understand the problem better and address the issue in a satisfactory way. Mark said he knew of a teacher who had a lot of excellent ideas and insights, with whom he had corresponded by email a year or so earlier, and that he would send me something from this correspondence that would be helpful.

A day or two later, I received an email from Mark. Attached was an insightful and useful email from this teacher. But, the teacher Mark had corresponded with was, it turns out, my Amanda.

(Eventually, Amanda and I got married and lived happily ever after.)

So what is a teacher to do?

I have three recommendations, and here they are in increasing order of difficulty.

First, join your local, typically state-wide, pro-evolution support group, as well as the primary national group. In Minnesota, this would be the Minnesota Citizens for Science Education. In other states, it would typically be the [Name of State] something…something… ‘Science Education’ something something… Google around, you’ll find it. If you can’t find it, email me and I’ll help you find it. The national organization is the National Center for Science Education. If at all possible, ask your school administrator if your science department can join the NCSE. Your administrator will probably say no (as a matter of money, not necessarily politics) but at least you get to mention the organization and the issue to the higher-ups!

ResearchBlogging.orgSecond, read and learn. For example, the McGill Journal of Education published a special issue last year addressing several aspects of evolution vs. creationism in the classroom. In one of the papers in this special issue, Genie Scott of the NCSE asks “What’s wrong with the ‘teach the controversy’ slogan?

Teachers are often exhorted by creationists to “teach the controversy.” Although such encouragement sounds on the surface like a proposal for critical thinking instruction, the history of the creationist movement in North America belies this claim. Rather than teach students to analyze and evaluate actual scientific controversies, the intent of “teach the controversy” exhortations is to have teachers instruct students that evolution is weak or unsubstantiated science that students should not take seriously. Such instruction in alleged “evidence against evolution,” or “critical analysis of evolution” would seriously mis-educate students, and should be resisted by teachers and administrators.

The entire McGill Journal of Education issue is available on line, here. By reading and internalizing this material, and simply knowing more about both the controversy and the way it is addressed from different angles, you will be more prepared to speak with confidence to students, teachers, and colleagues.

Third, adjust your attitude. Internalize, embrace, love, adopt, become one with the idea that you are doing the right thing, that science is important, that life science is important, and that evolution’s role in the life sciences is not confined to a subfield, but rather, is fundamental. “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” (Theodosius Dobzhansky) Keep that line in mind, make it your mantra.

Project Your Attitude
That sounds easy to do, but it is not. There is, however, a technique that may help. I call it “projection of the rational mind.” (If you come up with a better term for this, let me know.)

Here is how it works. When you are having trouble with a student who is passing out bibles in your biology class, or constantly raising inane questions cribbed form the Answers in Genesis web site, or whatever, part of you may want to bring this disciplinary problem up with a school administrator. If you had a boy who was constantly and inappropriately hitting on the girls, or a student who always refused to stop talking on her cell phone during class, etc., you would likely bring this to an administrator at some point.

But with this evolution issue, you are afraid that the administrator may actually be a creationist. With about a third of life science teachers being creationists, and roughly half of the general public being creationists, what are the chances that a school administrator is a creationist? Very high!

Teaching creationism and/or not teaching evolution in the life science classroom violates (depending on circumstances) a number of laws, rules, and regulations. You can’t hit a student, you can’t send a student home straight from the classroom no matter how much you want to, you can’t tell all the students to become scientologists, and so on. There are all kinds of things you must do, or must not do, in the classroom as a teacher or as a student. The role of the administrator is to support the teachers in making sure what is supposed to happen does, and what is not supposed to happen doesn’t. That is his or her job.

Therefore, you as the teacher have to assume that the administrator understands this and agrees with it, regardless of his or her personal position. A small percentage of school administrators (or fellow teachers) are pedophiles, kleptomaniacs, or serial killers. You don’t factor this in when deciding whether or not to discuss a disciplinary or pedagogical issue in your classroom. You discuss the issue with the administrator or colleague with the assumption that none of these things apply. You take your own professionally honed point of view and assume that certain basics are shared between you and your colleagues and bosses.

This is the attitude: I am a science teacher, and I am committed to the teaching of excellent science in my classroom. Having read a fair amount about the evolution/creationism controversy, I am aware of the nature of the laws and regulations, and I know what I need to be doing. This administrator may not know as much as I do about the issue, but s/he is fully supportive of my efforts and wants to understand my needs, and it is her/his job to help me out.

The idea that your colleague or administrator is a creationist hoping to derail the teaching of evolution in the classroom is unthinkable. If you see evidence to suggest this, you must assume that the evidence is misleading. Move ever forward with the assumption that the person you are communicating with is rational, reasonable, committed and dedicated, reasonably well informed and on the same side as you.

Require that your colleague be explicit about any way in which this is not true before you even consider the possibility.

In the most extreme cases, this will not work. In the most extreme cases, you need to contact the people at the state and national level, in those organizations you joined as part of Step 1, above. Explain the situation and they will help you.

Good luck.


Related posts

Scott, E.c. (2007). WHAT\’S WRONG WITH THE \”TEACH THE CONTROVERSY\” SLOGAN?. McGill Journal of Education, 42(2), 307-315.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    March 4, 2008

    A funny thing happened at Edgewood Middle School. Someone started a rumor that a teacher had gotten into trouble for teaching about how mitochondrial DNA illustrates the process of evolution. The rumor went that a student complained to a dean, who happened to be a creationist, and the dean told her not to teach the evolutionary aspects of mitochondrial DNA.

    When I heard the rumor, I was angry that this had happened. But rather than going off the handle and blogging about it, I decided to find out from the teacher what had happened.

    She told me that she had heard the rumor, but had no idea how it got started. She said she has complete support on teaching evolution as irrevocably intertwined with biology. My son explained to me the evolution of anti-biotic resistance, as he had learned it in class, and it was accurate. He seems to understand it better than most adults I know.

    I wish that all of our science teachers had such good support.

  2. #2 uncle noel
    March 4, 2008

    Correct on all points. Only one bio teacher talked to me about the Texas Freedom Network petition I emailed and she didn’t tell me whether she signed it. She didn’t seem to think teaching about ID was a problem because, she said, it isn’t creationism. I think they try to get past the topic quickly and hardly mention it again. All the students get out of it is “scientists think we used to be monkeys.” Maybe if the School Board tries to promote ID, this problem will come to light and there will be a backlash. My assistant principle (in charge of the science dept) emailed the TFN link to every science teacher again today, so at least our administrator is on the right side of the issue.

  3. #3 BB
    March 4, 2008

    I made it, phew …

    Your suggestion that evolution (including selectionism) should be taught throughout the life sciences curriculum makes sense. I’m not sure about the science curricula here (in the U.S.) but it would be best to start in the first middle-school classes or even in primary school. Right now, teaching evolution seems to work along the lines of what les chers sieurs at the Discovery Institute might call a Wedge Stategy: get it into a small part of the curriculum, but never talk about it in great detail. What’s needed is a broad-front strategy. (Of course, iff DI’s version of biology would be taught at large scale, it would become clear how unproductive it is as generator of explanations. Evolution, on the other hand, could sustain the “argument” of the life sciences.) (Also, “front” and “wedge” sound quite martial; perhaps more pacifist words?)

    Teaching broadly would allow teachers to get into the different versions of evo-theory from 1809 (or earlier) to today, and thus make the current version of Darwinism more compelling. Meanwhile, this could also pre-empt desires to “teach the controversy”: serious controversies about evolution could be discussed in depth and the phoniness of “controversies” become a bit more apparent. Lastly, teaching evo all along might help to disperse creationists’ energy: Now, it’s fairly easy for them to focus on “the evolution unit.” With a broad approach, challenges would have to be maintained constantly, and might wear out, and in “the evolution unit,” the teacher would just have to “turn back” and remind students of what they have learned all along. It seems that students learn all (or most) of the evidence for evo, without ever considering it as such.

    As for your strategy of getting these changes into the curriculum: how about calling it the “stubborn optimist” approach?

  4. #4 J-Dog
    March 4, 2008

    I would tell the creo’s to stick it up their keisters, there is no god, so f%^k off.

    Guess that’s why I am not a teacher. Congrats to all that have to put up with that crap.

  5. #5 Prosaic1
    March 4, 2008

    Another thought–an administrator could be a creationist, but also understand the rules and laws and professional aspects of education and science education that he or she would support the teacher in doing what he or she is supposed to be doing well.

    I’ve seen the technique of hiding a topic in a chapter before, taken to another level. In the years after 9/11 I saw a sociology text that had removed a specific chapter on sexuality and sexual orientation and made it available only online as a download. It had well over 20 chapters (modules) on a number of topics, and the editors had selected out that one single chapter to be placed online–no other chapters received that treatment. I wish I could remember the name of the text; it was really quite scary.

  6. #6 Joel
    March 4, 2008

    For those of us who live under Minnesota, http://www.iowascience.org/

    Thanks for the tip!

  7. #7 Ian
    March 4, 2008

    Nice work!

  8. #8 Lewis
    March 4, 2008

    An excellent post! My sincere congratulations on presenting a well thought-out positive position on topic most of us hold close to our prefrontal cortex (I would have said heart, but why be incorrect).

    Not a single curse word or derogator statement. Just truth and solid recommendations for positive action. Excellent!

    I emailed this post to my teacher niece.

  9. #9 Crazyharp81602
    March 4, 2008

    I’m so glad I don’t go to school let alone lecture on dinosaurs to the kids anymore. When I was in school, I would go around and lecture on dinosaurs to the classes in nearly every school in my area and did it with huge confidence. That was before I was forced into this destructive, forceful, satanic creationism. Since then, my confidence just went pffft. Since then, I only went to 2 schools to lecture on dinosaurs with having bad feelings and fears of not just unruly, rowdy, disruptive kids in class, but having a child or more in the group pipe up and say, “No, it’s not true!”; “That’s a lie!”; “Where you there?”; etc. Thankfully I never had those experience and the children were mostly well behaved.

    However, with all those issues going around with school-shootings, violence, and this kind of crap, I’m sufficed to say that I’m completely through with lecturing on dinosaurs to classes in schools and my days of school are over with for good.

  10. #10 bsci
    March 4, 2008

    Another good resource for responses to various anti-evolution questions and arguments is:
    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/

  11. #11 DH
    March 4, 2008

    First of all, I must admit that teachers are my heroes. I admire their dedication while under fire from so many fronts, the creationist/ID front being only one. And most do it out of the love of teaching, no one certainly does it for the money. That said, however, I still scratch my head and wonder “what the ‘bleep’ is going on here?” Professionally, I am a biologist, not a teacher. Here are some personal anecdotes that illustrate my consternation:

    I do volunteer work that involves introducing school children to the natural world around them. I could go on for pages about the misconceptions I hear, unfortunately a great number of them are from the teachers themselves. It is a very delicate situation when a teacher or other adult in the group pipes up with something really outrageous. And yes, the groups from the religious schools and the christian home-schooled groups are the hardest.

    I volunteer at a local nature center and have a casual friendship with the woman who is the administrator there. She used to teach science at the sixth through eighth grade level. I recently had a medical problem that kept me away from volunteering for awhile. I mentioned this to my teacher-friend and revealed my frustration at getting a proper diagnosis. (The medical system is another consternation of mine.) At one office visit, at what I thought was a reputable hospital run clinic, the physician listened to my complaint, and with no further exam, said there was nothing she could do for me and suggested I see an acupuncturist! Did I say I was a scientist? Can anyone spell evidence-based medicine? But I am off topic.

    My science teacher friend answered that she personally has no use for acupuncture, but she has seen a naturopathic practitioner and would gladly give me her card. This practitioner has a machine you see, that instantly diagnoses whatever imbalance your body might have. No you do not need to give a blood sample, that is the remarkable part. I never got a clear answer as to how this machine is supposed to work. But you get a read-out of what you need. The practitioner is completely honest and does not sell the prescribed supplements herself. You have to go the local vitamin store. The diagnosis is normally about $100, but she will work with you if that is too steep for your circumstances. Oh, and the machine is 100% accurate, 100% of the time. I will feel just fine in no time. Did I mention my friend used to be a science teacher?

    I am related by marriage to a teacher who holds a masters degree in education. She has been a lifelong elementary school teacher, now retired. When my husband and I moved from California to Colorado, one of this relative’s first questions was whether we noticed the phenomenon of water draining counter-clockwise on this side of the continental divide as opposed to the clockwise direction seen in California? When I explained that not only was this a myth, it was a myth that referred to the equator, not the continental divide, she didn’t, and still doesn’t believe me.

    And finally, when my son was in seventh grade he was accepted at a public run charter school for gifted students, the only such program in the area. Though I felt it was a bit stodgy that the science teacher insisted that everyone use his professional title of “Dr.,” I was pleased to think that a real PhD would be teaching my son science. Until I learned that he was a Doctor of Theology! Of what university, I never learned.

    These anecdotes are of the exceptions to the rule, I hope. The only way to ensure a proper future for our children is to educate them, and educate their educators; but not just in facts, but with the tools to discern fact from fantasy. I encourage my son to think. He is well grounded in the elements of critical thinking, but that is because I taught him, not because it was part of his public school education. Now in high school, he uses those skills to endear some teachers, and enrage others.

  12. #12 Skemono
    March 4, 2008

    Or forcing the rules of grammar into one poorly attended exercise and a quick, optional quiz in 7th grade English.

    I actually think that’s how English was taught when I went to school. I never really formally learned grammar or punctuation, not that I can recall.

    Of course, I’m from Kentucky.

  13. #13 uncle noel
    March 4, 2008

    You’re right to complain, DH. I estimate the ratio of good teachers to bad is about 50/50. Were talking about universities giving degrees to people who are remarkably ignorant. Something should be done, but education is big business: when there’s money in the balance, ethics and standards will seldom prevail. But here’s something that helps: students know the difference, and they remember the benefits they get from the good more than the grief they get from the bad. My advice to your son: question authority and take responsibility for your own education.
    – science teacher in Houston

  14. #14 cope
    March 4, 2008

    Well, I don’t teach biology but I do teach earth/space science and the subjects of evolution, deep time and the big bang are things that I teach.

    At the first question or suggestion that evolution is not real or that the universe cannot possible be 13.7 by old, I make the remark that, according to the currently accepted scientific understanding of the universe, all of these things are fact and that anybody who chooses not to “believe” is free to do so but that I am teaching a science course and the material that will be tested is the scientific understanding of these topics.

    I make my comments in the most pleasant manner I can and further discussion is always diffused. I press on and have, after 19 years teaching IN FLORIDA, never had any negative parental feedback.

    I have gone a bit further this year, however. Previously, whenever students asked about my religious beliefs, I said that I didn’t want to express them because I didn’t anybody to think that I was foisting mine on anybody else. However, when directly asked these days if I “believe in god” I unhesitantly say no and if pressed as to why, I say there is no physical, observable evidence that an invisible supernatural being guides our lives but that if such evidence ever is presented to me, I am willing to reconsider.

    This one may lead to some trouble down the road but I feel that I have a good enough reputation as a science teacher that I will get any support that I might need.

  15. #15 Serena
    March 4, 2008

    cope,
    I applaud you. I haven’t gotten up the courage to share my (lack of) faith with my students as you have. And if I had the courage, my words would echo yours. But I’m not sure if I could handle the backlash from parents. Would colleagues and administrators support me if I told students I’m an atheist? Is the United States ready to fight for the rights of an atheist? I’m just not sure.

  16. #16 Russell Blackford
    March 5, 2008

    Great post, but my initial feeling in response was one of despair. If things are that bad over there in the US, it’s tempting to just write off the whole country as a hopeless cause and irrelevant to the modern world. That’s not realistic, of course, but I can scarcely imagine what the situation must be like on the ground for school-level science teaching in the US. It’s some relief to know that there are people like yourself putting so much effort into the fight for reason and sanity.

  17. #17 Black Knight
    March 5, 2008

    I am very much afraid that you can not teach evolution in that manner. The problem is deeper.

    You need to teach, first off, what is science, what is a scientific theory; what kinds of questions is Science asking and how does it answer them.

    And I’m not hopeful about this. I was at an open evening at a high school last night, and the Principal was all on about the school newspaper and leadership courses and thinking outside the box and all that wet crap, but nothing about thinking critically or scientifically.

    Those of us who see evolutionary theory as a paradigm (which is what you’re saying; it’s how it should be taught) yet also have a faith are the ones who need to go into (out of? Whatever) the right places and say “look guys, you’re being completely dense”. The top-down, patronizing attitude of most science writers does far more harm than good.

    Sciencebloggers who take the attitude “There is no god, fuck off” are really not going to be the ones who help in the winning of this battle.

  18. #18 Aquaria
    March 5, 2008

    The problem with having the people who can reconcile science with faith do the talking to stand up for science education vs. creationist lunacy is that. too many of the religious moderates/liberals DON’T speak out.

    Too many of the religious moderates/liberals are too silent too often when their fundagelical kin get out of line. Rein in your own fools before telling anyone else how to interact with school boards or students (or society at large). And nobody is saying “there is no god beep off” in a classroom. But people have the right to say they’re not believers when confronted by religion-brainwashed loonies who insist on bringing their beliefs into every corner of every part of life, even in public, whether or not it’s welcome. That includes a classroom. Get your crazies to shut their mouths when it’s appropriate to do so, and then you’ll have a valid complaint about how the secular science-blogger crowd acts. To do otherwise reeks of hypocrisy.

  19. #19 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    March 5, 2008

    Atheist scientists have patiently tried to go the NOMA route only to see the overton window shifted back by the religious opponents of science.

    In a battle between science and propaganda, propaganda will win every time, Black Knight. As long as there are scientists such as Crick and Miller saying that evolution bolsters their faith, you will find people such as PZ and our kind and generous host saying “bullshit.”

    And you will have people showing why “God is a Failed Hypothesis.” If the religious scientists would take a larger role in explaining the difference between natural methodology and philosophic materialism, atheist Science Bloggers wouldn’t be so frustrated. People wouldn’t be so easily persuaded when John West says “75% of scientists are atheists (or whatever meaningless %age he cites) or think that it is even meaningful. Yet, Black Knight, they fall for it.

    You can see that it doesn’t matter who is promoting science, even religious scientists, the “anti-Darwinists” will attack. It wouldn’t make a lick of difference if all of the atheist sciencebloggers “shut up and sat down” tomorrow. Those opposed would still be opposed.

  20. #20 Ed Darrell
    March 6, 2008

    Thanks, Greg. Nice post.

    Turns out that Darwin is a figure in psychology, too, for the most evolutionary of reasons: Psychology studies animal and human behaviors, and analogies between other animals and humans rather depend on our similarities, which are due in no small part to our shared heritage.

    Caught teaching biology this semester, I’ve encountered no opposition from students on the issue. The research on behaviors is so interesting, who wants to quibble over abstract, philosophical things?

  21. #21 Siamang
    March 6, 2008

    “The problem with having the people who can reconcile science with faith do the talking to stand up for science education vs. creationist lunacy is that. too many of the religious moderates/liberals DON’T speak out.”

    Heck, I don’t think there are very many of them to begin with. Maybe they can all get together one night over a game of bridge.

  22. #22 scaurus
    March 6, 2008

    Cope,
    I second Serena’s kudos. When I was a physics and chemistry teacher, I never discussed my religious beliefs (or lack thereof), though my students figured them out (I would say the pledge in its pre-McArthyism form, I taught about radioactive dating and chemical evidence for the earth’s pre-biotic and pre-photosynthetic environment, etc.). I have a mildly interesting anecdote related to this:

    When asked “Do you believe in God?” I would tell my students I can’t answer that question. In Texas (ok, outside of Austin), it’s a pretty safe bet that while one wouldn’t be straight-away fired for declaring oneself an atheist, it would lead to an unfortunate chain of events, most likely parents claiming that one is using the science classroom as a platform to (de)proselytize (heck, even without coming out of the atheist closet, I had to put up with parents complaining I was trying to destroy their kids’ souls by teaching them the world was more than 6000 years old). When one then refuses to begin lying, or refuses to begin censoring reality, things would escalate, and some excuse would be found for dismissal. At any rate, one day, in the teacher’s lounge, I asked some of my fellow teachers, “How should I respond to that question?”

    The instant response from my co-workers: “Say yes, and move on.” I love the automatic assumption that yes, indeed, I believe in magic.

  23. #23 BobC
    March 6, 2008

    “With about a third of life science teachers being creationists”

    Horrible. Is this really true?

    Biology is still being taught with only one evolution unit? I thought evolution was suppose to be part of every single biology lesson every single day.

    The creationists always lose in court but it sounds like they still have successfully suppressed the teaching of evolution.

  24. #24 Greg Laden
    March 6, 2008

    Bob: yes, yes, yes.

  25. #25 gerald spezio
    March 6, 2008

    RE; Peaks & valleys
    After you have a deep introspection complete with head nodding & maybe a great guffaw especially if you ever caddied here;
    http://neglectedbooks.com/?p=41

    …You can proceed here for the wisdom of the ages and a piece of the rosetta stone from Laplace et al;
    http://bayes.wustl.edu/

    One of my favorites for character building in the scientific foxhole just before the charge is here;
    http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Debate/Polanyi_00.html

    Always remember that the scientific community is a community; and when a fellow scientific grunt is on your case, it is meant to help..

    gerald spezio

  26. #26 Coturnix
    March 6, 2008

    Back in late 1990s, Rep.Russell Capps tried to push creationism into North Carolina schools. This raised so much dust that, as a result, the NC school biology standards were completely rewritten in such a way that every single unit is taught within an evolutionary context. Also, NCSU started an Evolution minor for undergrads. Capps’ bill certainly backfired as NC now has one of the best standards in the country.

  27. #27 KKJ
    March 6, 2008

    I teach science in one of the most conservative areas of Utah. Because of our state standards, I’ve always felt quite comfortable teaching evolution. Although I have the occasional vocal creationist student, I’ve never had a parent complain and I feel pretty confident that I would have my administrators’ backing if a parent did complain. I start my classes with a unit on the Nature of Science (what is science and what isn’t science) and also address evolution in more direct ways in units on Classification and Evolution.

    I have no doubt that extreme parents are out there and that there are other teachers who hesitate to teach what they should because of fear or their own personal beliefs, but I don’t see things as bleakly as some others seem to. I’ve seen a lot of great science teachers in this area teaching good science.

  28. #28 Monado, FCD
    March 6, 2008

    I’m glad to see you’re giving McGill’s excellent resource a wider audience. As far as I know, two people read my blog. “Teaching Evolution.”

  29. #29 Scott Hatfield, OM
    March 7, 2008

    Greg:

    Excellent post. I heartily agree with all of your recommendations, especially the part about integrating evolution throughout the year. Miller and Levine’s text actually does a pretty good job of doing that, and that’s the one that every teacher in my district is supposed to use.

    If I might add anything, I would suggest that teachers convey their enthusiasm for evolutionary theory. I look forward to my evolution unit, and the worse thing you could do would be to give the impression that you were dreading it, IMO.

  30. #30 G. Tingey
    March 7, 2008

    There is another approach – when I was teaching in the UK I used it ….
    The cretinists, or rather, the childrens’ parents are deliberately loooking for a confrontation.
    Right, let them have one.
    The correct response to the intervention of any of the brainwashed is: “Either you are parrotting someone eles’s lies, or you are, yourself, lying.”

    Point them at all the avilable resources, and remind them that at least 99.999% odf all biologists, and 99.9% of all scientists, on the basis of huge amounts of evidence, are convinced that evolution, as presently understood (and that bit is important) is the only available explanation that fits the known facts.

    “If you have some previously-unknown facts that upset this view, we’d be VERY happy to hear them – but, be warned, we already know that every so-called “point” raised by the cretinists (including the DI) is false.”

  31. #31 ChrisJ
    March 7, 2008

    I agree absolutely with all of your points 100%, but why, oh why, did you have to bring in a reference to “An Inconvenient Truth”? Gore’s science lite movie is closer to the creationist perspective than an evolutionists perspective, and I would want an expository attached to the film labeling it as an opinion based political piece, as opposed to science.

    Why are folks who are otherwise so dead on with their approach to fact based science, so willing to ignore the blatant bad science and outright fabrications in that movie? I think it’s tragic the dis-service that has been done to the environmental cause by creating a funding vacuum, as all available dollars are tossed at increasingly ridiculous “solutions” to a naturally occurring cycle (such as pumping sulfur into the atmosphere!).

    Please, let’s teach our children evolutionary biology, and while we’re at it, we should also be teaching them critical thinking, and sound environmental conservationism, and bring careful and efficient eco-management back into focus. The religious fanatics live on both sides of the aisle, it seems, and it’s always an obstacle to good science.

  32. #32 Ragnor
    March 7, 2008

    The outlook is not all gloomy. I am studying to be a secondary school biology teacher so this is a topic that is close to my heart.

    My children now attend the exact same schools I attended. Whereas I was given extra credit for reading articles on evolution to the class, they skip the evolution chapter since, “This chapter conflicts with some people’s beliefs.” BUT my children are also better versed on the scientific method than I was at their ages.

    If challenged by a creationist proponent in my own class, I plan to ask, “If your hypothesis is that all life was created, then how would we test that?” I may not make any headway with the die-hards, but if I can just plant the thought that EVIDENCE is required, then I will have done something.

    Yes, I am an optimist, but one has to be to willingly set off on this career path.

  33. #33 Monado, FCD
    March 7, 2008

    When I was in high school our Biology section treated the world as a menagerie without reference to evolution: This is a fish. This is an amphibian. This is a reptile. This is a mammal. This is a bird.” But I never missed it because I was reading “The Evolution of Man,” complete with Piltdown Man, from my parents’ bookeshelves.

  34. #34 MichaelH
    March 7, 2008

    One thing that I noticed when teaching programming was that students were more involved and learned much better when they had an active investment in the project. Since I had lots of engineering students, I designed the projects toward that angle.

    Perhaps one problem with teaching evolutionary theory is that there is no immediate effect if the student get it or not. Most high school kids are obsessed with sex, so teach sexual selection theory to them. Of course they’ll draw a lot of incorrect conclusions, but at least it will get them thinking and involved.

  35. #35 Larry Fafarman
    March 9, 2008

    Greg Laden said,

    These days, evolution tends to be compressed into a single textbook unit, and not discussed very much elsewhere in that text (this depends on the book) . . . .This would be like forcing the laws of motion into a single, oft skipped and always shortchanged lesson in an intro physics class, and otherwise never mentioning them.

    In physics textbooks, are Newton’s laws of motion discussed in the sections on thermodynamics, heat conduction & radiation, electricity & magnetism, elasticity, etc.? Of course not — because Newton’s laws of motion are not relevant to those sections.

    Biologists have an inferiority complex because of the kind of attitude expressed by Lord Rutherford: “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.” As a result of this inferiority complex, biologists have been waging a prestige war against other branches of science by boasting that biology has something that the other branches don’t have, a grand central unifying principle, evolution.

    Which is better (or worse) — teaching both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution or not teaching evolution at all? Considering the current climate in public education, those may be the only two choices in some places.

  36. #36 raven
    March 9, 2008

    Canned post listing the creo victims. The truth is out there and it is ugly. The creos are far ahead on body counts while claiming persecution. Two on the list were beaten up. No one has been killed. Yet. SOP, they lie a lot.

    There is a serious reign of terror by Xian fundie terrorists directed against the reality based academic community, specifically acceptors of evolution. I’m keeping a running informal tally, listed below. They include death threats, firings, attempted firings, assaults, and general persecution directed against at least 9 people.

    The Expelled Liars have totally ignored the ugly truth of just who is persecuting who.

    If anyone has more info add it. Also feel free to borrow or steal the list.

    I thought I’d post all the firings of professors and state officials for teaching or accepting evolution.

    2 professors fired, Bitterman (SW CC Iowa) and Bolyanatz (Wheaton)

    1 persecuted unmercifully Richard Colling (Olivet)

    1 attempted firing Murphy (Fuller Theological by Phillip Johnson IDist)

    1 successful death threats, assaults harrasment Gwen Pearson (UT Permian)

    1 assault, fired from department head Paul Mirecki (U. of Kansas)

    1 state official fired Chris Comer (Texas)

    Death Threats Eric Pianka UT Austin and the Texas Academy of Science engineered by a hostile, bizarre IDist named Bill Dembski

    Death Threats Michael Korn, fugitive from justice, towards the UC Boulder biology department and miscellaneous evolutionary biologists.

    Up to 9 with little effort. Probably there are more. I turned up a new one with a simple internet search. Haven’t even gotten to the secondary science school teachers.

    And the Liars of Expelled have the nerve to scream persecution. On body counts the creos are way ahead.

  37. #37 raven
    March 9, 2008

    I just posted my list of university professors and officials who have been fired, almost fired, received death threats, or were beaten up by the creo terrorists. It is at least 9 people. Held for moderation.

    From many reports, evolution is not taught in much of Texas and most of Arkansas in secondary schools. As well as parts of Oklahoma and Florida. There is a lot of pressure on teachers not to, and in many areas it is either make yourself miserable, quit, or get harrassed. Besides which, in those areas often as not the “science teacher” is a fundie religious fanatic and a creo.

    I’ve heard a few stories here and there of teachers in fundie strongholds getting a lot of pressure to not teach evolution from the parents and administration. The ones from the reality based community sometimes just quit or have been all but forced out. Most of these reports are anonymous, the average person teaching high school doesn’t want to be a martyr, they just want to teach and pay their bills.

    If anyone has any stories, post them. My running tally is university level but another tally of secondary school teachers might be interesting.

  38. #38 Greg Laden
    March 9, 2008

    Raven,

    I used to get five or six threatening post cards or letters, sometimes emails, a year. The Anthrax scare, I think, slowed this way down. People who were using these media to anonymously threaten probably started to think of it as a form of terrorism, and backed off either because that was too much for the, or because they realized you can get caught.

  39. #39 brightmoon
    March 9, 2008

    larry youre simply ignorant

    we biologists have no ego problems since common descent has eliminated smallpox (cowpox is a close relative)

    and microevolution as a process is about to eliminate polio (what do you think an attenuated virus is)

    we couldnt eat without macroevolution ..bread wheat is a allohexaploid ..add potatoes, tomatoes, and macaroni wheat to that list of species derived from the macroevolutionary process of polyploid speciation

  40. #40 raven
    March 9, 2008

    I used to get five or six threatening post cards or letters, sometimes emails, a year.

    I’ve been through the threat cycle myself a few times. Although not about evolution, medical related issues.

    If the threat seems credible, contact the local police. Bring the documentation into them in person and talk to them. They are hard to get going but are obligated to and usually pretty good about taking action.

    Also contact the FBI. This is terrorism and hate crime stuff and they have a special unit that handles these crimes. They are used to dealing with religious extremists.

    One group that harrassed me had a happy ending. The FBI picked them up and last I heard, they were in federal court defending themselves from felony charges. It wasn’t just threats, they were way outside a few laws and a few people called them on it.

  41. #41 Badger3k
    March 11, 2008

    Great post – have to print it out.

    Cope – that is what I have done (and I am a 0-year teacher in an alternative certification program, not even a fully certified teacher), and so far no problems. For medical reasons I was pulled from my class (it was really a mutual decision) before we got to evolution, but I did answer several questions (and explain things such as “nobody says we came from monkeys, and here is why”), and my atheism came out fairly early. When asked I explained it as you did and let it go – I said I am not here to teach my (lack of) beliefs. I don’t know of anyone who had any problems with it, and the students accepted it, but then, we have a pretty good group of kids for being in Texas (Waco). I should also say that I have been recommended for another year (which pretty much is a given from what everyone else says). There is hope here in Texas.

  42. #42 MikeH
    March 11, 2008

    The problem is that we have two extremes, not just one. They feed off each other, in a rising cascade of hormones. They each use the same language to denigrate the other side. Sometimes you have to read carefully to tell if you’re reading an anti-science, or an anti-religion screed. Educators’ jobs would be much much easier if this very unfortunate framing could be done away with, but its become a spectators’ sport. We enjoy it, especially the media, and it just confuses the issues. 90% of the problem is a comedy of errors.

    NOMA isn’t just a convenient framing trick, its happens to be right. Science and religion ARE different. Science does not produce absolute fact, and the Bible isn’t a science or history textbook, and I thank God for that. NOMA is common sense, and needs to be policy, not just an individual’s option to reconciling science and religion. There should be no conflict when a fundamentalist student tells the teacher they don’t believe evolution. No teacher should need to be put in a position of even appearing to denigrate a student’s religion. What’s taught in a science clase should be science, warts and all, without any creation science crap in any of its guises, and respect shown to all religions, including the FSM if need be. If we all understood that the OK bill would be just an insane non sequitur.

  43. #43 Ronald Cote
    March 12, 2008

    Greg, On the one hand you say 99.999%, then you agree that one third of life science teachers are creationists. Is this more mathematical manipulation? You need to get your act together!
    All through these discussions, the evol message comes through clear that life science teachers do not seek truth but only the manipulation of their beloved theory. That’s the epitome of censorship! And it’s all at student expense. here is a prime opportunity for student involvement in a real pertinent controversy where an actual debate could provide a true learning experience

  44. #44 Greg Laden
    March 12, 2008

    Ronald: Huh? Please do not attribute to me a contradiction that I did not make. Perhaps you need to work on your reading skills. :)

  45. #45 Ronald Cote
    March 12, 2008

    Greg,You mention the 99.999% in your original article, then on March 6 at 4:46 BobC comments, “What about a third of life science teachers being creationists” Your reply , March 6 4;57 was Bob, yes,yes,yes. Perhaps you need to work on your reading and retention skills!

  46. #46 Greg Laden
    March 12, 2008

    99.999 percent of what? I see a lot of ninety-something percent talk in the comments, but not my post. Please clarify.

  47. #47 Monado, FCD
    March 12, 2008

    I’ve got Ronald Cote at my blog too. He claimed to be a biologist, then treated me to an arithmetic calculation using a single rate of increase (I guess it was some version of modern fertility rates) to show why we had to start with 2 humans 6,000 years ago to get 6.3 billion people.

  48. #48 Ronald Cote
    March 13, 2008

    Greg, my apologies. I misinterpreted a statement on manudo’s site where she had your site highlighted in bold red print.

  49. #49 Ronald Cote
    March 14, 2008

    Cope, as a biologist who, but for a few exceptions as guest lecturer, has spent a career in applied science on artificial heart and kidney R&D and with NASA’s” backpack worn by astronauts on the moon, it is bothersome to me that a fellow scientist, although academician, would opt to teach only one side of the story in order to promulgate one’s own views. I was under the conviction that we, as scientists, were to expose all views, pro and con, in order to provide for real and meaningful learning experiences for students and let the weight of the evidence allow them to enter into debate so that they could draw their own conclusions. As a scientist, you disappoint me.
    Mike, what, pray tell is an atheistic scientist? Your record is stuck on everything that opposes your distorted atheistic religion. If in opposition, you claim it to be propaganda. And, I would suppose that you, and your impeccable ability to discern science from propaganda, are the final arbiter in what constitutes one from the other. If it agrees with you, it is science, if not, it is propaganda. That is kind of lame and sick!!
    With the poverty of evidence for evolution, repetition of “evolution is fact” and that it is the “foundation of science” is about all that is left. As Hitler stated, “tell a lie often enough and people will believe it, and the bigger the lie, the more they will believe”. The most contemporary example is Gorebal Warming, So head for the high ground here comes a melting glacier!

  50. #50 Dr. K.
    March 15, 2008

    Mr. Cote: I shudder when I read you use the term “fellow scientist.” Honestly.

  51. #51 Ronald Cote
    March 15, 2008

    Dr.K, I shudder likewise. I was just trying to be courteous.

  52. #52 Dr.G.
    May 18, 2008

    Wow, I guess then that fossil fuels are in infinite supply (non-renewable resource liars!), and cars do not produce any pollutants whatsoever, breathing smog is actually healthy and might cure cancer, and the fact that producing ethanol from corn starch requires as much energy as it gives in the end does not make it stupid. How could I be so blind. I should learn to think properly. This is so obvious!
    —I admit, sarcasm cannot substitute for reasoned arguments, but sometimes enough is enough.

  53. #53 Dr.G.
    May 18, 2008

    In case you did not noticed my previous post was kind-of-a-response to Mr Cote’s amazingly unscientific one. So, let us talk propaganda. If you repeat enough times that there is no evidence for evolution, since it is such a big lie, people might believe it! There is tons of evidence, you just deny it, because it goes against your deepest beliefs.

    Also, for that other post about inventing a foundation of science out of envy to physics. Come on! Evolution is such a nice thing, has such powerful explanatory power, that it lend itself into being the most important concept in biology. It came before genetics! Yet genetics gave it better foundation. It came before molecular biology, yet what we witness is that the molecules attest for the evolutionary history of living beings. We find evidence so often we just do not say anything any more, we often do not even think about it, yet if we stop for a moment and contemplate it, we cannot do anything else than stand in awe at how beautifully unifying evolution is. So, it is not surprising that Dobzhansky said that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Evidence jumps at you everywhere! Thus, I cannot even imagine how could anybody build a textbook for biology without evolution EVERYWHERE. Worst, I cannot even imagine how can anybody say we invented it to artificially embrace all of biology. You have to be a very good liar, or plainly deny what your senses are telling you.

    Oh, I was forgetting one thing I wanted to say, physicists are responsible for a lot of advancements in the understanding of evolution. Did you know that? No decent physicist would ever deny that evolution makes a lot of sense, nor that it is a truly remarkable achievement in human understanding of nature.

  54. #54 laurisa
    May 18, 2008

    ah-right: take your turn.

    Black Night: there is a need for those who wear a red A on their chest. Sciencebloggers and more lead me to believe that to ‘fuck off’ is the beginning to an answer.

    Larry: that’s the biggest crock of shit i’ve heard in a long time: Newton’s laws not relevant. hmm. we all got somewhere somehow. whether it be by gravitational pull, cold war or hunger, whatever. still, humans migrate for reasons at the time.

    Brightmoon: ELIMINATE polio? Is this WHO (World Heath Organization) or who? ever wonder who funds WHO? There are places in the world that suffer dearly from this affliction. Ain’t nothin’ changing unitl the money comes. I don’t care what u.s. fuckin’ a. says today. Dare you to take a trip: Lome, Togo. find it on a map.

    and then rCote: you are dumb. really? no melting glacier? What are you from _____? Huh>obviously you don’t deal with oil and gas. Hmmm…the precious energy sources that keep humanity going. At least YOUR humanity. tribal is a little bit different, but you wouldn’t know that. by your statements, i’d guess you are sitting comfortably…US maybe? Get a grip, man. The best way to expose a falsehood is to know the argument. I dare you.

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