A pair of professors from Penn State found out that most high school teachers do not teach evolution as a proven scientific fact and the duo don’t like it one bit. “Creationism has lost every major U. S. federal court case for the past 40 years, and state curricular standards have improved,” Michael D. Berkman and Eric Plutzer asserted in the January 28, 2011 issue of Science magazine. “But considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America’s classrooms.”
Berkman and Plutzer based their conclusions on research drawn from the National Survey of High School Biology teachers sampling of 926 instructors. “We estimate that 28% of all biology teachers consistently implement the major recommendations and conclusions of the National Research Council,” Berkman and Plutzer wrote. “They unabashedly introduce evidence that evolution has occurred and craft lesson plans so that evolution is a theme that unifies disparate topics in biology.”
Berkman and Plutzer teach political science. What bothers them the most is “a sizable number of teachers” who “expose their students to all positions.” Their solution: forcing an evolutionary curriculum on teachers in training.
“Requiring an evolution course for all preservice biology teachers, as well as provisions of resources to provide such a course, would likely lead to meaningful improvement in secondary school science instruction.”
Specifically, “Outreach efforts such as webinars, guest speakers, and refresher courses—the types of efforts currently aimed at secondary school teachers—could be tailored and targeted for both preservice teachers and for biology and science education professors at teaching-oriented colleges.”
As Berkman and Plutzer see it, this promotional effort would have the benefit of producing teachers who think alike. “This two-pronged effort may help increase the percentage of new teachers who accept and embrace the findings of evolutionary biology,” they wrote.
Additionally, they could weed out dissidents. “More aggressively integrating evolution into the education of preservice biology teachers may also have the indirect effect of encouraging students who cannot accept evolution as a matter of faith to pursue other careers,” Berkman and Plutzer note. “Effective programs directed at preservice teachers can therefore both reduce the number of evolution deniers in the nation’s classrooms, increase the number who would gladly accept help in teaching evolution, and increase the number of cautious teachers who are nevertheless willing to embrace rigorous standards.”
“This would reduce they supply of teachers who are especially attractive to the most conservative school districts, weakening the cycle of ignorance.”
Thus, they could winnow out doubters such as the Illinois biology teacher they encountered. “I am always amazed at how evolution and creationism are treated as if they are right or wrong,” he said. “They are both belief systems that can never be fully proved or discredited.”
I’ve actually always found this to be the case. When questioning both sides they fall back upon extrapolation when attempting to prove their points, whether noting changes in the Wooly Mammoth or marveling at the sophistication of cell structures.
Berkman and Plutzer would put an end to such inquiries, at least in the classroom, which is about the only place where students can make them.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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