What’s happening in the classroom? No one really knows.

The St. Petersburg Times has been the only newspaper in Florida I’ve seen that really puts a lot of attention on the evolution in the state science standards issue. A story in today’s paper attempts to peek into the science classroom. That’s where the actual teaching happens, after all. But it was difficult for the reporter to get an accurate sense of what’s going on when it comes down to teacher and student interaction. Note that the reporter tried to reach 50 teachers, but only got 17 to respond. The opening paragraphs get right to the point of what’s going on:

Sometimes, Allyn Sue Baylor doesn’t teach evolution in her science class, even though the state requires it. She knows of other teachers who duck the issue, too.

They fear a backlash.

“There are cases when parents have gotten really upset,” said Baylor, who teaches at Palm Harbor Middle School in Pinellas County. “It’s scary. You can lose your job.”

It’s sad that someone can be in fear of losing his or her job for doing the job. That’s essentially what the above quote says. Can you imagine a dentist being in fear of teaching patients how to properly floss? I sure can’t, but that’s what is happening in some Florida science classrooms. Evolution is not just part of biology, it is biology. And yet the teacher feels that teaching the subject is fraught with danger. Why is that?

“In short, there are too many biology teachers who won’t, or don’t, or can’t teach evolution properly,” according to an editorial in the January edition of the American Biology Teacher.

Some may be glossing over the subject because of their faith. A 1999 survey of biology teachers in Oklahoma, for example, found that 12 percent wanted to omit evolution and teach creationism instead. A similar survey in Louisiana found that 29 percent of biology teachers believed creationism should be taught, while in South Dakota, it was 39 percent.

Others may fear being dragged into a battle over belief. In a 2005 survey by the National Science Teachers Association, 31 percent of respondents said they had felt pressured by students, parents, or administrators to include creationism, intelligent design or other faith-based alternatives to evolution in their curriculum. Thirty percent said they felt pressure to de-emphasize or omit evolution.

This is one heck of a vicious circle. First, a vocal, passionate group of people don’t have an understanding of basic science education, as evidenced by the the constant cry of “it’s not a fact, it’s a theory” or “it’s just a theory.” This group raises such a stink, based on their lack of science education, that they suppress current science education through fear. That in turn fosters a new generation of future students who don’t have an understanding of basic science. This horrible cycle will continue until enough people have the courage to break it.

Do you have that courage?

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
This entry was posted in In the Classroom, In the News, Our Science Standards. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What’s happening in the classroom? No one really knows.

  1. Unfortunately, the religion editor for the Lakeland Ledger has suggested that parents who object to the theory of evolution on religious grounds should be able to exempt their children from learning about the theory. In other words, the writer is suggesting that the horrible cycle should be perpetuated.

  2. Karen R says:

    While I don’t want those students to suffer through a stunted curriculum, I think it’s still a far better situation than the current one – where fear of parental anger prevents some teachers from even covering the topic.

    I was actually surprised to hear that so many teachers had decided that it was just less trouble to avoid evolution entirely. I hate to penalize the innocent children of nutcases, but the other students will receive a far better education without those nutcases looming over the teachers’ shoulders.

  3. Karen R – time is short so here is a more complete explanation of my reasoning.

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