It happens. A very large percentage of life science teachers are creationists. In Minnesota, and Minnesota is not that unusual, about half the population or more are creationists, but among life science teachers, that number is reduced by almost one half. In other words, one in three life science teachers are creationists, although most, one would hope, only barely so.

This does not mean that creationism is being taught in the classroom. Some, perhaps many, life science teachers who are creationists know to not teach creationism in the classroom. But I find it difficult to believe that their creationism does not affect their teaching, at the very least by reducing the emphasis they place on the mortar that holds all the bricks of life science together: Evolutionary theory itself.


Dale McGowan, of The Meming of LIfe blog (a secular parenting blog) has a son who suddenly finds himself in the classroom of a creationistic physical science teacher. (See: Science, interrupted). McGowan addressed this problem by writing a letter to the teacher. I like the letter, and I’m sure Dale will handle this very well, but I don’t recommend this approach. Dale’s letter is passive aggressive. Dale knows what the teacher is up to … indoctrinating the students into a mode in which when they encounter evidence for evolution they simply won’t accept it (read the posts to see the details) but the letter simply asks tough and well worded questions about what Dale’s child claims the teacher said in class.

You can’t win that kind of discussion. The teacher can (and I’m certain will) explain how the student misunderstood, how since the class is not really about evolution, this is not the emphasis, and will likely otherwise nitpick. In the end, the conversation among Dale, his son, this teacher, and one or more school administrators may look something like the history of the Evolution-Creationism ‘debate’ rather than what it should look like: A decisive take-down of a creationist teacher who is in violation of the law.

The teacher is doing something wrong, got caught, and it is perfectly reasonable for the parent, in a more or less irate manner but hopefully reasonably professionally, approaches the school administration (having first contacted, in person, someone at the National Center for Science Education) directly and issues a firm, clear, no-nonsense complaint.

There is also a discussion of this particular case going on at The Panda’s Thumb, and you should look at it. And, if you have any experiences yourself dealing with creationist teachers, please let us know.

Comments

  1. #1 Marion Delgado
    September 8, 2010

    Greg:

    He said he’s contacting the administration, and corrected Richard Hoppe on McGowan’s awareness of the NCSE. I don’t think there are one-size-fits-all answers to everything. In this case, it’s possible that the administration will be moved by the email exchange to take the situation more seriously.

    I think that, the initial approach to one side, this looks to be a nip-in-the-bud situation, fortunately.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    September 8, 2010

    Marion, it may well be, and as I’ve said, I expect him to handle this well.

    But I want to re-emphasize that an argument wrapped in incredulity, while it may be the basis for later documentation and discussion, is not a step forward, but rather, a step backwards in the context of the big picture, and the average parent is probably unprepared to sustain it. Also, it gives the culprit a way out. The very first thing that should be noted is that a professional educator is supposed to know that they should not be doing this. There is nothing to argue about there is no philosophical or scientific issue that can be or needs to be discussed. The teacher is just as wrong doing what he did as if he had, for instance, asked the students out for beer. Had he asked the class out for a beer, no one would be starting off with a discussion about whether or not that is a good idea. He would simply be suspended and investigated. Same thing should happen here, and having the conversation does little else than provide smoke and cover.

    If he’s done this previously and been admonished, this teacher does need to be fired.

  3. #3 Glendon Mellow
    September 8, 2010

    Interesting point Greg. I don’t presume to know Dale’s mind on this, but it looks like he had similar thoughts as to whether to address it at all (his “4 as a prime number” example).

    I like that’s he’s put the exchange online. You make a good point that that it wasn’t direct enough. Perhaps it’s a useful example for parents on the fence of how to start if they feel mixed about confronting it at all.

  4. #4 Ahcuah
    September 8, 2010

    Fortunately, I live in a district (even though 60% Republican) in which real science is taken seriously.

    One time my daughter’s advanced biology class was having an exam, but the regular teacher (excellent! teacher, by the way) was sick. So they had a substitute (no big deal for administering a test, right?).

    But he was some sort of preacher, and instead of administering the test, used the first 1/3 of classtime to talk creationism.

    Needless to say, the kids complained. Loudly! (This includes one student who went on to be on full scholarship at Ohio State University and is going on to med school.) The school responded firmly and correctly: that substitute teacher was removed from the “acceptable” list.

  5. #5 10,000li
    September 8, 2010

    Ahcuah,

    What does the voting make-up of your school district have to do with teaching evoution in your government schools?

    Here is a map showing the red to blue hue of votes in the presidential election:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ElectionMapPurpleCounty.jpg

    My challenge to you is to show that there is a link between how “red” a county is, and how likely are the teachers to attempt to teach some form of creationism.

    I doubt you can, but am willing to be proven wrong.

    If you cannot (as I suspect) then the irony of you making a very unscientific, politically-motivated claim about the tendencies of teachers in certain voting districts in a blog post about the importance of teaching science should not go unnoted.

  6. #6 Zol Heyman
    September 8, 2010

    Some years ago my daughter’s science teacher presented creationist literature from a parent in the classroom. We live within a mile of 2 bible colleges.

    I patiently went up the chain of command starting with the teacher, the principal, and the deputy superintendent being very respectful, but very assertive.

    We basically pressed them to take the public record curriculum outcomes (which specified how evolution was to be taught) seriously and asked for a remedy.

    I got a meeting with all of the science teachers, the principal, and the deputy superintendent. They agreed they made a mistake and that they would place the National Association of Biology Teachers statement on the teaching of evolution in their Education Instructional Guidelines which teachers are obligated to follow.

    http://www.nabt.org/websites/institution/index.php?p=92

    Some years prior to this we had to mobilize parents to come to a school board meeting to speak out against the addition of creationism in the curriculum. It was defeated by a small margin.

    The main thing is to be respectful and to use the curriculum outcomes as your basis for argument, not just an overheated opinion. The NCSE is a great resource as well: http://www.ncseweb.org

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    September 8, 2010

    10,000li: I think the case can be easily made.

    Missouri, Kansas, Dover, Minnetonka, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Arkansas, etc. have had major issues regarding creationism.

    The fifth district in Minnesota, Boulder Colorado, Much of New England’s urban zone, Bay Area CA, the NW coastal region, etc. etc. have bred anti-creationists.

    My wife moved from a blue district school to a red district school. She had the occasional creationist in the blue district and now has them all the time.

    I don’t know of a direct one to one comparison off hand, but the information I have strongly suggests that the hypothesis that red-districts will be more often associated with creationist shenanigans than blue-districts is reasonable and if tested would probably not be easily falsified.