Dangers of failing to teach evolution, part I

August 24, 2008

From comments at the website of the New York Times today, on the story, “A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash”:

I teach biology and I would like to add a story in encouragement to other biology teachers. About 15 years ago I was teaching a botany course to college sophomores and started discussing the evolution of land plants. Expressions began to harden. Students stopped taking notes. So I stopped and asked if my discussion of evolution was bothering them. Many nodded and one said, “Why do teachers act like evolution is a fact?” At the time I had little experience and had assumed they had a working knowledge of evolution from previous classes at college as well as from high school biology. They did not. I didn’t have much time left that day, but I did explain some of the lines of evidence that support evolution.

The next day, one of my students came in and slammed a stack of books onto her table. She said, “I am so mad! I am so angry!” She looked near tears. She said, “My parents never let me even hear the word, evolution! They said it was all lies! I went to the library last night and got out books about it!” (and here she held up Origin of Species) Then she said, “It makes so much SENSE! I am so angry I never got to learn about it before!”
Now I teach a class entirely about evolution and I think of her often. She still gives me inspiration to keep on trying to open up minds.

— Bio prof, Ohio

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Read this: Teaching science is hard, made harder by religious claptrap

August 24, 2008

Page A1 of the New York Times on Sunday, August 24, 2008: “A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash.

Read it, and consider these questions:

  1. Would your local paper have the guts to report on this issue, for your local schools? (The Times went to Florida; heaven knows few Florida papers could cover the issue in Florida so well.)
  2. What is your local school board doing to support science education, especially for evolution, in your town? Or is your local school board making it harder for teachers to do their jobs?
  3. What is your state education authority doing to support science education, especially in evolution, in your state? Or is your state school board working to make it harder for teachers to do their jobs, and working to dumb down America’s kids?
  4. Do your school authorities know that they bet against your students when they short evolution, because knowledge about evolution is required for 25% of the AP biology test, and is useful for boosting scores on the SAT and ACT?
  5. Does your state science test test evolution?
  6. Do your school authorities understand they are throwing away taxpayer dollars when they encourage the teaching of voodoo science, like intelligent design?

It takes a good paper like the Times to lay it on the line:

The Dover decision in December of that year [2005] dealt a blow to “intelligent design,” which posits that life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone, and has been widely promoted by religious advocates since the Supreme Court’s 1987 ban on creationism in public schools. The federal judge in the case called the doctrine “creationism re-labeled,” and found the Dover school board had violated the constitutional separation of church and state by requiring teachers to mention it. The school district paid $1 million in legal costs.

That hasn’t slowed the Texas State Board of Education’s rush to get the state entangled in litigation over putting religious dogma in place of science. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is already embroiled in one suit, brought by the science-promoting science curriculum expert they fired for noting in an e-mail that science historian Barbara Forrest was speaking in a public event in Austin. TEA may well lose this case, and their side is not helped when State Board Chairman Don McLeroy cavorts with creationists in a session teaching illegal classroom tactics to teachers. Clearly Texas education officials are not reading the newspapers, the court decisions, or the science books.

Here’s one of the charts accompanied the article. While you read it, consider these items: The top 10% of science students in China outnumber all the science students in the U.S.; the U.S. last year graduated more engineers from foreign countries than from the U.S.; the largest portion were from China. China graduated several times the number of engineers the U.S. did, and almost all of them were from China.

Copyright 2008 by the New York Times

Copyright 2008 by the New York Times

Can we afford to dumb down any part of our science curriculum, for any reason? Is it unfair to consider creationism advocates, including intelligent design advocates, as “surrender monkeys in the trade and education wars with China?”

Update: 10:00 p.m. Central, this story is the most e-mailed from the New York Times site today; list below the fold.

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