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Most high school biology teachers lukewarm on evolution

By John Published: January 30, 2011

Wired Science laments a recent survey of public high school biology teachers that finds few strong advocates for evolution, the cornerstone of modern biology and medicine.

While vocal advocates of intelligent design and similar non-scientific alternatives to evolution are a minority, more than half the teachers in a nationwide poll avoided taking a strong stance for evolution.

Such teachers ''may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists,'' wrote Penn State political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, the poll's architects, in a Jan. 28 Science paper.

Berkman and Plutzer, the authors of Evolution, Creationism and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms, examined data from the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, a representative sample of 926 biology teachers from across the country. They estimate that only 28 percent of those teachers consistently and ''unabashedly'' introduce evidence that evolution has happened, and build lesson plans with evolution as a unifying theme linking different topics in biology.

At the opposite extreme, 13 percent of teachers explicitly endorse creationism or intelligent design, and spend at least on hour of class time presenting it in a positive light. An additional 5 percent reported that they support creationism in passing or when answering students' questions.

 The remaining fraction of teachers, who Berkman and Plutzer dub the ''cautious 60 percent,'' avoids choosing sides. Often these teachers have not taken courses in evolutionary biology and lack confidence in their ability to answer questions from skeptical or hostile students and parents.


The National Center for Science Education has many resources for educators who may need help answering skeptical or hostile students and parents.

Here, too, is the official position statement from the National Science Teachers Association on teaching evolution.

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) strongly supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept in science and should be included in the K–12 science education frameworks and curricula. Furthermore, if evolution is not taught, students will not achieve the level of scientific literacy they need. This position is consistent with that of the National Academies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and many other scientific and educational organizations.

NSTA also recognizes that evolution has not been emphasized in science curricula in a manner commensurate to its importance because of official policies, intimidation of science teachers, the general public's misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, and a century of controversy. In addition, teachers are being pressured to introduce creationism, ''creation science,'' and other nonscientific views, which are intended to weaken or eliminate the teaching of evolution.


See also NSTA's explanation of  a scientific theory (not just a hunch or guess) and the role that evolution plays as unifying concept in science:
There is abundant and consistent evidence from astronomy, physics, biochemistry, geochronology, geology, biology, anthropology, and other sciences that evolution has taken place.
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