In the wake of a Gallup poll which showed that 40% of Americans still believed in Creationism, this statistic may not be so surprising, although it’s certainly disturbing. According to a recent study, a majority of high school biology teachers don’t take an active stance on evolution, and 13 percent of teachers actually advocate for creationism in the classroom. Only 30 percent of biology teachers took a solidly pro-evolutionary stance, a trend that may emerge from teachers’ desire to avoid conflict.
The data was collected from nearly 1,000 participants in a national survey of biology teachers, which asked them to describe what they taught in the classroom and how long they spent on each subject. While only 28% of teachers followed the recommendations on teaching evolution, a shocking number of teachers admitted to explicitly advocating “creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light.”
“The survey left space for [the teachers] to share their experiences. That’s where we picked up a lot of a sense about how they play to the test and tell students they can figure it out for themselves,” Michael Berkman, a study co-author, explained. “Our general sense is they lack the knowledge and confidence to go in there and teach evolution, which makes them risk-averse.”
Many teachers offered both evolution and creationism as equally valid options, encouraging students to make up their own minds. Some blamed the way that science teachers are themselves taught, suggesting that if they had weak backgrounds in evolution, they would not be comfortable presenting such a controversial theory as fact. Others suggested that school administrations may not fully support teachers’ opinions in the face of angry parents.
“The implications for us are very concerning, that there are teachers who are not teaching science, who are not teaching some of the core tenants of science,” said Francis Eberle, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. He was one of those who cited the need for better education for science teachers. “We haven’t done a good enough job with making people understand what is science and what isn’t,” he said. “Science doesn’t deal with the human condition, like why we were here. That’s fine to be covering those, but not in the science classroom.”
It’s true that science teachers need to be equipped to answer the tough metaphysical questions that accompany evolution, and they’re probably not receiving enough education or support in the face of strong parental opposition. But it also needs to be made clear to them, somehow, that creationism, as a tenet of Christian theology, does not have a place in a secular American public school classroom.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons