The Need to Know and Support Science [Teachers Who Don’t]

I believe that a great deal of the problems in the United States are caused by problems in education. This is caused by the nature of democracy. In order for voters to made good choices, they need to have the proper information. Education enables them to not only be taught some information, but properly gain the correct information throughout their life. I will be addresses several areas of deficiency in our education system over a series of posts.

Along with math and literature, science is a core foundation of education. More than the other two, science is about the natural world. Math is more abstract; literature more personal and mental. Science, especially at lower levels, is focused on elements that students can find around them: animals, weather, the sun and moon. It helps build a framework in which students understand the world.

Science is founded in evidence, experimentation, repeatability and peer review. Truth is an accumulation of years of this process. I have talked of this before, but the general process is one of continually becoming “less wrong.” The flat world became a spherical one, which gave way to an oblate spheroid. Our scientific knowledge is not perfect, but it is the best representation of the natural world that we have.

The truth of the biological diversity of life is that it is caused by the process of evolution. This is established by every metric we use to evaluate our frameworks of the natural world. Other explanations simply lack proper evidence and do not hold up peer review and repeatability.

What does all this have to do with teachers and our education system? The job of a teacher is to impart knowledge and information. In the case of a science teacher, their job is to teach what the scientific community has established as truth. Unfortunately, they do not.

Penn State political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer recently published a report on the attitudes on evolution of America’s biology teachers. They examined data from the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, a representative sample of 926 biology teachers from across the country. The results are terrible depressing.

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.” That is less than a third. Less than a third of biology teachers believe and fully teach the central premise of biological diversity.

That next statistic is also depressing: 13% of our biology teachers are openly and unashamedly creationists who teach creationism in the classroom. Another 5% “reported that they support creationism in passing or when answering students’ questions.” This means that we have nearly a fifth of our teachers not just failing to teach the truth. They are actively teaching lies to their students, endorsing a framework for the world that is not scientific.

What about the rest? The people who Berkman and Plutzer dub the “cautious 60 percent”? These teachers refuse to take sides. They approach it with a variety of deflecting methods. In many ways, these are almost as bad as lying:

The cautious 60% may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists. The strategies of emphasizing microevolution, justifying the curriculum on the basis of state-wide tests, or “teaching the controversy” all undermine the legitimacy of findings that are well established by the combination of peer review and replication. These teachers fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments, even if unintentionally.

How do we fix this problem? There are two major issues. The first is that many of the timid teachers also do not feel adequately trained to address evolution well, and that’s a significant factor in their reluctance to press the topic (creationist teachers, on the other hand, are full of unwarranted certainty and lie to their students with confidence). We need more thorough education on science for our teachers and require classes in evolution.

The other is to provide a better support structure for biology teachers. When controversy hits the classroom, the teacher in question is largely alone. We must stand up and support those who teach the truth. We can not let them be ripped apart by fear and intimidation of those who oppose science.

We have to create an environment where the cautious 60 percent step up and join the 28% who teach evolution with confidence and without fear. We need to limit and remove the percentage of teachers who oppose evolution. We want teachers who do believe and teach evolution. The classroom is no place for teachers who don’t.

-That is all.

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