Saturday, May 09, 2009

Biology Teachers should Stick to Real Science

Did you take biology in high school? If so, were you taught about the theory of evolution? Were you also taught creationism or intelligent design? It might surprise some of us but according to recent research about a quarter of high school biology students were taught creationism as a valid alternative theory to evolution.

That is having an effect on the way college biology students think about evolution. Those who were exposed to creationism in their high school biology classes were much more likely to believe that creationism could be validated as a real alternative to evolution. Of those who were taught only evolution in high school biology, 75 percent accepted it as scientifically valid.

The problem lies with high school biology teachers. According to the research reported in ScienceDaily, one-fourth of high school biology teachers do not know that it is against the law to teach creationism in science class. And whether they know the legalities or not, it should be clear to them that teaching their own religious beliefs does not equate to teaching a valid scientific alternative.

Some teachers avoid any controversy surrounding evolution and creationism by not teaching either one. Nearly 10 percent of high school science teachers choose not to teach either. Unfortunately, that is cheating students out of the best science education they can get. It is leaving out the most fundamental theory in all of biology. Evolution is the foundation upon which is built most other biological principles, not to mention well-accepted principles of geology and cosmology.

When I was in high school, I did not believe in evolution. I was taught the Creation story in Sunday school and that is what I believed. I was brainwashed as a child and was literally told not to believe what they teach us in high school about evolution.

But when I took biology as a sophomore, my science teacher made a lot of sense. He did mention the bible’s story of Creation, but explained that it did not necessarily contradict evolution theory; it just explained it in different terms.

More importantly, though, the lesson on evolution included an explanation of the evidence for it as well as the mechanisms of how it works. It all seemed very logical to me. I became an evolution convert. I still believed in God and the bible, but I came to realize that perhaps God simply used evolution as his tool of creation.

Since then, I have been on a crusade against the teaching of creationism or its offspring, intelligent design, in the classroom. In the ensuing years since my graduation, state and federal judges across the country, including the Supreme Court, have ruled against teaching creationism as science. Yet some science teachers continue to include it in their lesson plans.

No state has science standards that mandate the teaching of creationism, or even allow for it. Indiana’s state science standards mandate coverage of evolution at almost every level. So why do some teachers ignore the science standards adopted by their state by not including evolution? And why do some continue to include the religious dogma of creationism as though it were an alternative scientific theory?

These teachers are doing a grave disservice to their students who carry their now-skewed understanding of evolution into college. Even biology majors are not immune. The research indicated that many biology majors who were taught creationism in high school still found it an acceptable alternative to evolution when they were freshmen in college.

Science teachers are not scientists. More than 99 percent of biologists agree that evolution is the foundational theory of biology and that it is the best explanation of the diversity of life on earth. But a third of high school biology teachers never studied evolution in college and many of them are not even science majors.

If science students in the United States are to receive a science education equivalent to that in other countries, we must do a better job of educating our science teachers. We need to work with biology teachers and science majors to make sure they have sufficient knowledge about evolution. School administrators must make it clear that teaching religious views in science class is unconstitutional. And teachers need to stick to the standards and the textbooks when teaching students about evolution.

There is already too much encroachment by creationist organizations into the classroom. They build their museums and send literature to science teachers. They are well organized and unrelenting. It doesn’t help that actual science teachers are helping these groups spread their phony science to unwitting high school students.

No comments: