13% of US biology teachers advocate creationism: Welcome to 2011

What happened to curricular standards? And why the heck are Creationists biology teachers?
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

My jaw hit the floor with a painful thud when I saw the headlines surrounding a Science article published Friday. A full 13% of surveyed US biology teachers were actively promoting Creationism, while the majority of the 900 surveyed taught evolution either ineffectively or in such a wishy-washy manner as to send students mixed messages and fail to teach a core tennet within modern biology.

Believe what you want. I don't care. That's entirely your business. But when your business is also to teach biology, then you had better not only be teaching to your state's standards but also be teaching a concept critical to our understanding of virtually every aspect of biology, human and otherwise. To know that less than one third of the biology teachers surveyed actually managed to teach the subject effectively is like hearing that only a small percentage of elementary teachers cover fraction manipulation well. Oh, wait...

There are plenty of school committee members and parents out there screaming for intelligent design to at least be taught, if not full-on Adam=Dust, Eve=Adam's rib, and Adam+Eve=Human Race, as a compromise between what we know of science and their Christian beliefs. However, by not teaching students directly and clearly about what we know of evolution and natural selection (and we know quite a little bit, thank you very much, Charles Darwin, and the generations of biologists who came after you), we rob them of a fundamental understanding of life and prevent them from learning the foundation for most biological sciences.

I'm not here to argue fundamentalist doctrines versus science. I'm here to argue for the education of our children in a manner consistent with massive bodies of knowledge and real, validated, widely accepted scientific facts and principals.

My wife would disagree adamantly with me. She's an Adam-and-Eve sort of girl and I don't hold that against her. Our minister takes a more flexible approach and I like hearing what he has to say most weekends. My mom was the first to introduce me to the idea that "maybe God guided evolution...After all, 6 days of God's time could be millions of years in ours." Yes, I still remember that conversation.

But guess what? Not one of those three people is, should be, or ever will teach biology. One of the first things we teach our students (in science and elsewhere) is the difference between fact and opinion, belief and theory, rigorous research and pseudoscience. We don't call it pseudoscience in the third grade. But the average third grader should be able to tell you a little bit about the scientific method.

And the average high schooler should be able to tell you in detail about the roles of natural selection and random mutations in various ecosystems and in the evolution of species. Here's what Science had to say about this:

Just over 5 years ago, the scientific community turned its attention to a courtroom in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Eleven parents sued their Dover, Pennsylvania, school board to overturn a policy explicitly legitimizing intelligent design creationism. The case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, followed a familiar script: Local citizens wanted their religious values validated by the science curriculum; prominent academics testified to the scientific consensus on evolution; and creationists lost decisively. Intelligent design was not science, held the court, but rather an effort to advance a religious view via public schools, a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause...Many scientists cheered the decision...We suggest that the cheering was premature and the victory incomplete.

The teaching of evolution infringes on nobody's rights. We have overwhelming scientific evidence in its favor. Parents and religious leaders can find their own ways to reconcile or refute the evidence based on their beliefs. However, teaching Creationism in our public schools not only violates the US Constitution, but infringes on a student's right to learn objective, research-based, state-of-the-art science from state-of-the-art teachers in state-of-the-art schools.

This is 2011 and their counterparts around the world with whom they will be competing in a few short years are decidedly not learning Creationism in their biology classes.

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