The state of evolution education in the USA and an agenda for sane evolution education
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Map chart is from New York Times. Iowa, which appears to be the last holdout against mentioning evolution, has no state science standards of its own. Note that between 2000 and 2008 some states actually removed or weakened mention of human evolution.
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Table 1. Hours that percentages of teachers spend on different topics. From "Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait" by Michael B. Berkman, Julianna Sandell Pacheco, Eric Plutzer
A discussion accompanying the above table says,
Overall, teachers devoted an average of 13.7 hours to general evolutionary processes (including human evolution), with 59% allocating between three and 15 hours of class time (see Table S1). Only 2% excluded evolution entirely. But significantly fewer teachers covered human evolution, which is not included as an NSES benchmark. Of teachers surveyed, 17% did not cover human evolution at all in their biology class, while a majority of teachers (60%) spent between one and five hours of class time on it. (continued below the fold)
Those teachers who stressed evolution by making it the unifying theme of their course spent more time on it. Overall, only 23% strongly agreed that evolution served as the unifying theme for their biology or life sciences courses (Table S2); these teachers devoted 18.5 hours to evolution, 50% more class time than other teachers. When we asked whether an excellent biology course could exist without mentioning Darwin or evolutionary theory at all, 13% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that such a course could exist.
Creationism in the classroom: We also asked teachers whether they spent classroom time on creationism or intelligent design. We found that 25% of teachers indicated that they devoted at least one or two classroom hours to creationism or intelligent design (see Table 1). However, these numbers can be misleading because while some teachers may cover creationism to expose students to an alternative to evolutionary theory, others may bring up creationism in order to criticize it or in response to student inquiries. Questions that simply ask about time devoted to creationism, therefore, will overstate support for creationism or intelligent design by counting both those who teach creationism as a serious subject and those holding it up for criticism or ridicule. We asked a series of supplemental questions that provided some additional insight into the character of creationism in the classroom. Of the 25% of teachers who devoted time to creationism or intelligent design, nearly half agreed or strongly agreed that they teach creationism as a “valid scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species.” Nearly the same number agreed or strongly agreed that when they teach creationism or intelligent design they emphasize that “many reputable scientists view these as valid alternatives to Darwinian Theory” (see Table S3).
On the other hand, many teachers devoted time to creationism either to emphasize that religious theories have no place in the science classroom or to challenge the legitimacy of these alternatives. Of those who spent time on the subject, 32% agreed or strongly agreed that when they teach creationism they emphasize that almost all scientists reject it as a valid account of the origin of species, and 40% agreed or strongly agreed that when they teach creationism they acknowledge it as a valid religious perspective, but one that is inappropriate for a science class.
There is a lot more information in the article.
I find the above chart and table to be disturbing. The above chart of the USA shows that most state science standards "treat evolution straightforwardly and/or thoroughly," which IMO is not bad in itself, but the table shows that many teachers appear to spend excessive time teaching evolution and that too few teachers teach opposition to evolution, and many of those few who do teach opposition to evolution just disparage that opposition. The table shows that a horrendous figure of 38% of teachers spend more than 10 hours on evolution, but maybe this figure is not so bad if a lot of that time is spent on related subjects, e.g., genetics and population dynamics. Also, it looks like the time spent on "human evolution" is in addition to the time spent on "general evolutionary processes," which makes the situation even worse. Despite the widespread belief that a lot of teachers avoid evolution completely because of personal beliefs and/or to avoid antagonizing students, parents, and others, the table shows that only 2% of the surveyed teachers do not teach evolution at all. Some teachers would not teach evolution if government policy did not require it -- in Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District, the courts rejected a public-school teacher's claim that he should not be required to teach evolution because teaching it was against his religious beliefs. I am pleased that only 23% of the teachers in the survey strongly agreed that evolution served as the unifying theme for their biology or life sciences courses. As for the teachers teaching creationism and/or ID, it is commonly believed that teaching creationism in the public schools is illegal and some people even falsely believe (per Kitzmiller v. Dover) that it is illegal to teach ID, but court rulings against teaching those things might be considered to apply only to government policies and not to the actions of individual teachers.
I don't even remember studying evolution at all in my high school biology courses in the early 1960's. I don't think that the neglect of evolution in my biology courses was due to any hostility towards evolution -- I think that evolution was something that most of the students just took for granted -- IMO it was just that evolution was not considered to be all that important. Today, learning evolution is more important because it is the basis of cladistic taxonomy, which has become important in just the last few decades.
Unfortunately, those of us who favor sanity in evolution education don't seem to have an agenda of goals for reforming evolution education. Here is a proposed agenda for such reform:
(1) Legalize evolution disclaimer statements. This is a strong possibility because two federal court decisions against evolution disclaimers, Selman v. Cobb County and Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish, came close to being overturned. The infamous Kitzmiller v. Dover decision of insane Judge "Jackass" Jones is out of the picture. Evolution disclaimer statements should be considered to be constitutional unless they say something like, "if your textbook contradicts the word of god, the textbook is always wrong," or if the teacher gets out a bible and starts pounding it and prays for forgiveness for the sin of teaching the blasphemous theory of evolution.
(2) Get rid of that outrageous "evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology" (Florida science standards) statement and similar statements, whether in government science standards or in biology textbooks. Saying that evolution is central to biology just because evolution was supposedly the means by which species originated is like saying that design and manufacturing are central to engineering because they are the means of creating engineered objects. Design was just a small part of my undergraduate mechanical engineering program (it was just a senior design project) and there was no manufacturing course at all! Most of the engineering courses consisted of engineering analysis. As I noted, I am pleased that only 23% of the teachers in the survey strongly agreed that evolution served as the unifying theme for their biology or life sciences courses. That stupid 1973 paper by Theodosius Dobzhansky, "Nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution," has parasitized the brains of the Darwinists.
(3) The courts should get the hell out of the business of micro-managing evolution education and stay out. This means you too, Judge "Jackass" Jones (Kitzmiller v. Dover) and Judge "Blooper" Cooper (Selman v. Cobb County). Except for outright religious creationism, issues in evolution education should be declared to be non-justiciable.
(4) Reject textbooks that don't confine evolution to a single chapter but that keep it constantly in students' faces. Avoid biology textbooks such as the one by Ken Miller and Joe Levine, which Kitzmiller v. Dover defendant Bill Buckingham described as being "laced with Darwinism" because he counted Darwinism appearing in 12-15 places in the book.
(5) Maybe reduce the amount of time that teachers spend on evolution education. The above table suggests that many teachers devote an excessive amount of time to evolution (as I said, some of the time may be spent on related subjects, e.g., genetics and population dynamics). Never having studied evolution in school, I don't know from personal experience how long it should take to cover the subject, but I do know that Kevin Padian must have covered the subject adequately in just one day in courtroom testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover, with time to spare because he also spent a lot of time criticizing creationism and ID, particularly ID. It should not take very long to teach students what they need to know about evolution. Students who want to learn more about evolution can study it in college.
(6) IMO science teachers should not lecture about or discuss evolution theory's impacts or implications concerning religion, philosophy, ethics, etc.. See this article. IMO these subjects are too sensitive and contentious to be discussed in science classes.
(7) Make the weaknesses of evolution theory a part of the official curriculum. This is a longshot goal because it is bound to be resisted by claims that it is an attempt to introduce religion into the curriculum. The above table shows that a significant minority of teachers already teach opposition to evolution, though not necessarily in a positive way.
Labels: Evolution education (new #3)