Florida Citizens for Science board member David Campbell has been working with New York Times reporter Amy Harmon on a story of hers for quite some time now. Finally, the fruit of the labor is out there for all to see: A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash.
ORANGE PARK, Fla. — David Campbell switched on the overhead projector and wrote “Evolution” in the rectangle of light on the screen.
He scanned the faces of the sophomores in his Biology I class. Many of them, he knew from years of teaching high school in this Jacksonville suburb, had been raised to take the biblical creation story as fact. His gaze rested for a moment on Bryce Haas, a football player who attended the 6 a.m. prayer meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the school gymnasium.
“If I do this wrong,” Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, “I’ll lose him.”
But at the inaugural meeting of the Florida Citizens for Science, which he co-founded in 2005, he vented his frustration. “The kids are getting hurt,” Mr. Campbell told teachers and parents. “We need to do something.”
The last question on the test Mr. Campbell passed out a week later asked students to explain two forms of evidence supporting evolutionary change and natural selection.
“I refuse to answer,” Bryce wrote. “I don’t believe in this.”
It wasn’t just Bryce. Many of the students, Mr. Campbell sensed, were not grasping the basic principles of biological evolution. If he forced them to look at themselves in the evolutionary mirror, he risked alienating them entirely.
The discovery that a copy of “Evolution Exposed,” published by the creationist organization Answers in Genesis, was circulating among the class did not raise his flagging spirits. The book lists each reference to evolution in the biology textbook Mr. Campbell uses and offers an explanation for why it is wrong.
When the bell rang, he knew that he had not convinced Bryce, and perhaps many of the others. But that week, he gave the students an opportunity to answer the questions they had missed on the last test. Grading Bryce’s paper later in the quiet of his empty classroom, he saw that this time, the question that asked for evidence of evolutionary change had been answered.
Those snippets don’t do the five-internet-pages story justice. Go and read it yourself. It’s a revealing look at the individual and personal aspect of the science/anti-science battle. Our sincere appreciation goes out to David for putting the time and effort into working with Amy on this story. He really put himself out there for this. Good job!
For those of you stopping by here via Internet searches because you are looking for a way to contact Dave, feel free to leave a comment here, or send me an e-mail (bhaught(at)flascience(dot)org) and I’ll make sure he gets your message. If you are interested in learning more about the fight over Florida’s science standards, visit our Projects page. As the NYT article states, Dave did play a big role in writing those standards and fighting on their behalf. Our main website has all sorts of other useful and interesting resources, too. Check it all out.
[edited to add] The comments on the story at the NYT are so far very, very positive. It’s refreshing to see so many supportive folks! This comment is great:
I second comment #3. Bless Mr. Campbell. He was my high school biology teacher, and this article only begins to illustrate all the ways in which he is an amazing teacher. He constantly challenges his students to think for themselves, to analyze, and to test hypotheses rather than simply accept things at face value. He was the first teacher who ever taught me how, not what, to think, and Mr. Campbell is the reason I am now a biologist, studying evolutionary biology. Thank you, Mr. Campbell, and all biology teachers like you, who, in teaching evolution well, nurture the natural curiosity in young minds.
— Natalie Wright, Gainesville, FL
And this one:
If every classroom had a teacher like David Campbell, our schools would be much better places.
— SKAN, DC
And this one:
Mr. Campbell is a true hero. We need more like him.
— Matthew H, Iowa