Thursday, May 12, 2005

Science Education in America

I've been interested in this Kansas school board deliberation regarding changing the science standards for the state and I did some checking out there to see what was being said and I came upon a site called Beliefnet.com. I suppose it would be fair to state that those going to such a site are more inclined towards a religious foundation, i.e. they have religious beliefs that tend to color their thinking, and on the basis of this I suppose I'm not overly surprised by the numbers as you see them here:

Total: 2829
How should evolution and creationism be taught in public schools?
Just evolution should be taught
30%
Both taught as legitimate "theories"
46%
Only creationism
25%

Then I found a table complied by Eugenie Scott, the director of the National Center for Science Education (a pro-evolution organization very involved tracking the evolution debate in this country) which enlightens as follows:

Percentage of Teachers Advocating Equal Time for Creationism*

Illinois (1983)

35%

Georgia (1983)

30%

Ohio (1987)

39%

South Dakota (1989)

39%

Pennsylvania (1997)

39%

Louisiana (1999)

29%

National (1989)

30%

My guess is that on the whole this pretty much hasn't changed percentage wise, i.e. about 30% of the teachers out there believe that teaching creationism (note: creationism is far specifically rooted in a biblical interpretation of the origins of man and the species, it questions the age of the Earth putting it at about 10,000 years old, and espouses numerous other beliefs that run contrary to scientific evidence. Intelligent design, which is the focus of the present Kansas debate, is not specifically biblically focused, though many would argue that ID is creationism in a different guise to make it more palatable) is something we should be doing in school. Visiting the NSTA web site, specifically to its Science Teacher magazine, I recalled an article from about a year ago by a professor at the University of Minnesota. He provided the following information:

  • 40 percent of biology teachers in Minnesota spend little or no time teaching evolution (Hessler 2000);
  • Approximately 15 percent of Minnesota’s biology teachers include creationism in their classes;
  • More than 25 percent of Minnesota’s biology teachers believe that creationism has a scientific basis; and
  • One-fifth of Minnesota’s biology teachers are pressured not to teach evolution (Kraemer 1995).

Now this was Minnesota, and the current controversy is in Kansas, and the one before that was Georgia, so we should all take comfort in the fact that this is happening in those "Red" states where the thinking is somehow back there in the previous century, right? Of course you know that that's not right, I mean why would I otherwise ask? Recently in the New York Legislator we find the following, provided courtesy of NCSE Resource:

Equal time for "intelligent design" legislation in New York

Assembly Bill 8036, introduced on May 3, 2005, and referred to the Committee on Education, would require that "all pupils in grades kindergarten through twelve in all public schools in the state ... receive instruction in both theories of intelligent design and evolution."

New York is as blue as a blue state can get, but you still have those out there who think the answer is in the Bible (the person in question here is an assemblyman by the name of Richard Hooker.)

I doubt anyone that knows me would have any question as to where I fall on this issue. Evolution is the ONLY scientific THEORY that explains the origin and development of life. Creationism and Intelligent Design are hypotheses that attempt to do explain the origin of life, but by virtue of their lack of experimentation and their inability to predict anything (God, or the intelligent creator whomever he/she/it may be doesn't seem to be willing to go along with the proof part of this endeavor), they are not theories. They are hypotheses just as valid as my saying that we were all created by Hobbits who rule the universe. My main problem as opposed to the creationists/intelligent design folks is that I don't have a Bible to point to that allows me to say that the Great Hobbit tells us this. The ID/creationist folks will point to issues of complexity or our not being able to explain all aspects of life via evolution, but then we can't explain exactly how gravity works, and a load of many other things either, and it never seems to occur to anyone to have to insert God, or an intelligent designer, into the gaps caused by those unknowns.

Ok, more on this tomorrow.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Chris said...

I think any schoolteacher who considers creationism a legitimate theroy should not be allowed to teach, but thats just me.

11:15 AM  
Blogger James said...

I would have to definitely call into question any teacher who categorized creationism or intelligent design as a "theory". Their understanding of what a theory is clearly is off base and they have no business teaching science. On the other hand, if their personal belief was that God did it, but they simply categoized this as a religious conviction, one that they kept apart from what they taught in the classroom, then I'd have no problem with this. That may seem like I'm splitting hairs here, but I don't have a problem with someone's religious belief so long as they're not trying to push it on someone else, especially onto kids.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Josh Canel said...

40 percent of biology teachers in Minnesota spend little or no time teaching evolution (Hessler 2000)

That stat instigates a little bit of "chicken-or-egg" thought in my mind. If people actually understood evolution better because it was better taught, would we have so many anti-evolutionists getting on school boards?

Somewhere (it has been awhile since I read it), a community college science teacher wrote about his experience teaching evolution, but without ever using the word. He just talked about genetic drift and natural selection. After he admitted that he had just taught the class the basics of evolution, a lady raised her hand and said, "Wow! That actually makes sense. I thought it was all about men coming from monkeys."

5:50 PM  
Blogger James said...

I think you have a good point. Evolution for so many people is such a bugaboo concept that they react to it in a knee jerk fashion, blocking out anything about it that may in fact make sense. Far too many people don't use their brains in their day-to-day living, or otherwise take comfort from thinking that doesn't require a whole lot of thinking but is palatable and acceptable. Trying to get beyond that is often very, very difficult and sometimes, as in the case you cite, you sort of have to sneak your way in.

8:57 PM  

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