“Creationism” refuses to die in American high schools. Two researchers at the University of Pennsylvania sounded the alarm in Science,1 with suggestions for what to do about it. The only suggestion off the table was to have debates about the evidence; no, that was completely out of the question: the report was focused on “Defeating Creationism.”
Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, professors of political science at U Penn, surveyed a “national representative probability sample” of 926 high school biology teachers about their teaching of evolution. Only about 28% of the respondents consistently teach evolution “unabashedly”. The rest are either bashful or unabashedly “creationist” when teaching the subject of origins, the survey found.2 13% of the teachers “explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least 1 hour of class time presenting it in a positive light (an additional 5% of teachers report that they endorse creationism in passing or when answering student questions).” This sounds like a very small amount of time to worry about in a semester-long course, but Berkman and Plutzer’s alarm was palpable: “The boldness and confidence of this minority should not be underestimated.”
Of greater concern, however, “the cautious 60%” who sit on the fence to avoid controversy. Some of them avoid the topic, or just teach to the test, or teach various views to let the students make up their own minds. Few of the fence-sitters are advocates of young-earth creationism, which Berkman and Plutzer said “would prevent them from becoming strong advocates for evolutionary biology.” The authors worry that many students, who will take biology as their only science course, will fail to hear from these cautious teachers the “evidence that evolution has occurred,” and that instruction in evolution will be “absent, cursory, or fraught with misinformation” in American high schools. They worry about a “cycle of ignorance” in many communities, especially the “socially conservative” communities, where more of the “creationist” and “cautious” teachers tend to reside. The cycle must be broken to prevent a “systematic undermining of science.”
As a result, they advocated three things: (1) Academic scientists need to get more involved in testifying at court cases. While “Creationism has lost every major U.S. federal court case for the past 40 years, and state curricular standards have improved,” they claimed, “supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America’s classrooms” unless scientists get involved. The Dover decision, though representative of academia’s feelings that “intelligent design Intelligent design was not science … but rather an effort to advance a religious view via public schools, a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.” Many evolutionists cheered that decision; “We suggest that the cheering was premature and the victory incomplete,” they said. More Dover decisions are needed: “federal courts have been shown to limit effectively the ability of state and local governments to endorse nonscientific alternatives to evolution.”….
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