13% of Science Teachers Are Creationists

You want some depressing news about the American education system?

(Is there any other kind?)

Here you go:

The majority of high school biology teachers don’t take a solid stance on evolution with their students, mostly to avoid conflicts, and fewer than 30 percent of teachers take an adamant pro-evolutionary stance on the topic, a new study finds. Also, 13 percent of these teachers advocate creationism in their classrooms.

About 60 percent of the teachers polled didn’t take a direct stance on the subject, dubbed by the authors as the “cautious 60 percent.”

That last line bothers me almost as much as the fact that we have a lot of science teachers out there who obviously don’t understand science.

This is why we need activists in the classroom who are willing to stand up to the Creationists. We need more advocates for good science. If you choose to duck and cover when the subject of evolution comes up, you’re hurting your own students’ education — how can any decent teacher stand by while that happens?

How do we fix this?

Administrators need to be very stringent about who they hire. Interviews with potential science teachers should include discussions about evolution — how the candidate would teach it, how relevant the teacher feels the subject is, how teachers would handle a student (or parent) who opposes the teaching of it, etc.

Every teacher certification program I’m aware of includes a class dealing with current issues in education. Evolution and other religious issues like ‘moments of silence’ need to be a focus here.

Science teachers themselves have to make an extra effort to teach evolution correctly and in depth. That requires brushing up on the topic if needed and collaborating with colleagues to discuss best practices.

In any case, Creationists shouldn’t be teaching public school science classes. They’re as bad as pharmacists who deny women birth control because they oppose it for religious reasons.

You might wonder why they go into science education in the first place if they don’t want to educate students about actual science… Until you realize you’ve answered your own question.

(Thanks to Kevin for the link)

  • Eskomo

    Wouldn’t the administrators select those that they agree with? They could choose creationists themselves.

  • http://atheistreadsbible.blogspot.com/ Jude

    My former high school hired a creationist this year. They have her teaching anatomy, among other things. I’m not sure about the other new science teacher, but the long-time science teacher told me that when he teaches evolution, he doesn’t call it by that name in order to avoid controversy.

  • Anonymous

    Principals and superintendents must also be prepared to stand up for their teachers. Science teachers must know they have support against the inevitable complaints. That’s a big factor in the cautious 60%.

    The complaints are something that school boards should be prepared for with strong written policy.

  • Justin

    Having teachers stand up for evolution is only going to get you so far. They need support on a massive public and administrative level. If your boss does not even believe in evolution than it’s going to be impossible for you to get defense and backup from them if you stand up for it in the classroom.

    It will take young people to continue to bring up the topic of evolution in the classroom and push for further education in the topic and do not back down from it.

  • Kawaikunai

    My high school anatomy teacher (who I loved and never had any problem with otherwise) told us straight out that she wouldn’t teach us about evolution because she didn’t believe in it.

    Later, when we were learning about muscles, she told us that she believed that God gave us just enough ATPs to let us move at the right moment, so that we wouldn’t overexert ourselves. How thoughtful?

  • Steve

    And don’t forget the practice of stacking school boards with Christian fundamentalists. That all but guarantees that should some sort of public dispute ensue, any teacher (or their boss) supporting evolution will lose.

  • romo2austin

    I think the 60% is the most important number. The vast majority of teachers are too afraid to teach science in a science classroom.

  • MV

    I have to disagree about creationists not teaching science. It’s not ideal but if they can teach it properly, so be it. After all, if you are going to exclude creationists from science, you should exclude most of the religious from other aspects of science. If you believe in the soul then you have a problem with evolution (not to mention science in general), for instance. But some of my best teachers, high school and college, were able to separate their beliefs from their professional lives.

    If they don’t teach the science, then that is a problem. But that can occur just as much if they are unwilling and able or willing and unable. Frankly, college rarely teaches the ability to teach science. And if you are afraid for your job or of being harassed if you teach it, you are going to be unwilling. That survey is a symptom of the environment. Considering that about 80% of the US doesn’t believe in (or possibly understand) evolution, it’s not terribly surprising.

  • elricthemad

    Hypothetically, if i advocated the flat Earth model or was a geo-centrist could i be certified as a science teacher for public schools? What about spontaneous generation or the alchemical transmutation of lead into gold? It is absurd to me that this one crack-pot theory of creationism is still around while the others i mentioned (and countless others) are considered lunacy.

  • Adam

    @MV
    ” After all, if you are going to exclude creationists from science, you should exclude most of the religious from other aspects of science.”

    Yes, we should exclude them from science if they’re not going to teach science.

    Anyway, this change has to happen from the top down. Until they know they can teach real science, correct thinking science teachers will fear for their jobs. Politicians need to advocate for science in the science classroom, cutting funding when this is denied. Administrators that do the hiring need to understand that evolution is science. And then the teachers can teach science.

    But in America, the word evolution strikes fear because of controversy. So politicians won’t support real science in the classroom for fear of losing constituents, administrators won’t hire real science teachers for fear of losing their funding and jobs, and science teachers either tiptoe around or flatout refuse to teach the subject for fear of losing their jobs. And the students in grade schools don’t know better.

    I don’t have a good solution except a “two-class” solution, where they introduce a philosophy class to high schools that has creationism as part of it, and leave evolution to science classes.

  • Karen

    Administrators need to be very stringent about who they hire. Interviews with potential science teachers should include discussions about evolution

    But what if it’s the administrators who are either creationists, or (more likely) too cautious to risk controversy in the community?

    I would guess that admistrators who want to avoid controversy are the real root of the problem. That “cautious 60 percent” wouldn’t have to be so cautious if they could be sure of solid support from the administration.

    Karen

  • http://www.answerswithoutquestions.com/ Mihoda

    This article needs a different title. 13% of science teachers TEACH creationism. Who knows how many are creationists.

  • http://anthropogenesis.blogspot.com/ anthropogenesis

    This is a problematic matter because there isn’t just “right vs wrong” teaching ideologies here but also great morale issues that must be handled with care.
    A teacher should not be denied the right to teach just because he’s beliefs do not seem to be compatible with the ones we think should be the most (if not only) accepted. This is a very grey matter not black and white.
    As long as there is a considerable percentage of believers there should be creation in the text books but it should progressively be approached as a legacy belief, an ancient way of seeing the world that has been corrected, enhanced and is now obsolete.

  • Steve

    As long as there is a considerable percentage of believers there should be creation in the text books

    No. No. No. Creationism isn’t science. So it has no place in scientific text books. You can mention it in a comparative religion class, but not in biology.

    There is no real “controversy” in the scientific community. It’s all manufactured and in the public. Evolution is supported by a mountain of evidence and considered pretty much as scientific fact (which like “scientific theory” has a slightly different meaning than the colloquial use).

    But it doesn’t need to be in the books to mention it. The alleged controversy would actually be a good way to teach some basic scientific principles and terms and explain why some things are junk or pseudoscience. That can be done independently from official text books.

  • Adam

    @anthropogenesis

    Sure it should be in textbooks. Religious, theological, and philosophical textbooks. Not science textbooks.

    The reason evolution stands apart from creationism is because it is constantly being tested and tried over and over again using the scientific method. Even if it is disproven as a theory, it can still be studied over and over as proper method for scientific research.

    Creationism has not and cannot be proven using the scientific method. It can be thought about philosophically and theologically, but not scientifically. So while it may or may not seem a valid answer for the creation of the universe by religious and agnostic people, it is nonetheless not a SCIENTIFIC response to the question of how the universe was created.

    A scientific hypothesis, whether it’s right or wrong, has an exact method for discovering whether or not the hypothesis is correct.

  • http://www.jaytheatheist.blogspot.com/ Jay

    @anthropogenesis

    “A teacher should not be denied the right to teach just because he’s beliefs do not seem to be compatible with the ones we think should be the most (if not only) accepted. This is a very grey matter not black and white.”

    I disagree. They should be denied the right to teach [science].

    In the context of this discussion, we are talking about evolution which is a fully accepted theory. If you are attempting to teach something that you do not fully accept, then the danger exists that the messaging will be diluted. Perhaps this did not happen to you but never the less it is something that should be guarded against.

    I would not want someone training the potential pilot of plane I am destined to fly who did not believe in Bernoulli’s principal no more than I want a teacher teaching evolution who believes that we were created from dirt and ribs. If you feel things occur by magic then you are likely to convey that. In dire emergencies, I do not want people that I rely on to thing magic is a possible answer.

    -J

  • Claudia

    I can’t help but think that at least some of these numbers must have to do with low standards of education for teachers. Having gone through the rigors of a biological degree I find it highly improbable that any significant proportion of people with such an education would still be creationists.

    Are American teachers required to have advanced degrees in the subjects they teach? My minimal expectation is that a high school level science teacher would have a major in some scientific subject (chemistry, biology, geology, physics whatever) and then at least a year or two of training in the wider range of subjects they would be expected to teach in school.

    However hearing that many teachers diminish the quality of the education they offer to avoid trouble is sadly not shocking at all. I’ve seen scores of teachers pretend not to see vicious bullying and abuse in their own classrooms. Given the way many teachers ignore the physical and psychological health of their students, it’s hardly surprising that many don’t concern themselves with their education either.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    What is wrong with your country? Enshrined within your own bill of rights is a Constitutional guarantee that the church and state will be separate. Yet it is ignored. Blatantly ignored.

    I hear that Canada is nice.

  • Kerry Cooper

    I am a future teacher in a rural town in the south. Based on my fellow future teachers I am actually surprised the number isn’t higher. I want to teach middle school, and there is a chance that science is likely a subject I will teach. Most people who know me at all know that I am an atheist and therefore have no problem teaching evolution so I have encountered a great number of debates as to why I would teach evolution and not “intelligent design” as well in my classroom. Sitting through my “biology for education majors” class I watched over half the class cringe when the teacher discussed evolution and even some get down right angry that she did. It is truly frightening to think these people might be teaching my own children one day. All that being said, the term evolution isn’t even discussed in my state’s standards till high school, I believe. Most people state that it is because it is too difficult a concept to grasp by younger kids but my third grader seems to have a pretty big hold on it right now so I am not sure about that.

  • Adam

    What is wrong with your country? Enshrined within your own bill of rights is a Constitutional guarantee that the church and state will be separate. Yet it is ignored. Blatantly ignored.

    I hear that Canada is nice.

    That’s why people like Hemant, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union exist. Most of us are still proud about a lot of America- we’re just trying to enforce a law that’s been widely disregarded for so long. Our struggle is similar to the struggles of women, racial minorities, the GLBT community, and even minority religions. We’re trying to make our country even better.

    @Kerry Cooper: The south is known as the “Bible Belt” for a reason. The amount of Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians in that part of the United States is by ratio much, much higher, and ignorance to otherwise is proportionally the same. I mean no offense to the parts this doesn’t apply to, but in underdeveloped regions of the South, such as the inner cities and the areas that are still de facto segregated by race, the issue of secularism takes a backseat to racism. The same is true of all parts of the world that are not developed. It is “common knowledge” that God created the world how it is not long ago, and to think otherwise is truly an outlier. The newly formed Alabama Atheists and other such groups are helping combat this as well, but the fact of the matter is that secularism, like most progressive ideologies, is a long way off as the issue of racial tension still has to be overcome.

    But even in most schools, middle school science rarely includes more than a brief introduction to evolution if any at all. But more than likely you will not have much say as to what you teach. Most of your job is to make the education engaging and fun for the students, rather than put your own knowledge beyond the board of education’s curriculum standards.

  • Daniel

    I would suspect in a lot of areas that the administration is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    They are far more likely to face a lawsuit (regardless of winning it) with a strong emphasis on evolution than with a teacher who throws in some creationism. I attended high school in the 90s and was appalled when our biology teacher read us Genesis and told us the main difference with evolution was the timeline.

    Then I joined the Air Force and talked to people from more conservative states. People who had graduated public schools with the understanding that, and I quote, “Evolution has something to do with monkeys, right?”

    Rather depressingly, I’m actually a little shocked there aren’t more creationists teaching science classrooms.

  • ludovico

    Lemme see now, this was a controversy in 1925. Fast forward 86 years. It’s still a controversy. WTF????

  • Nakor

    ^ Yeah, I know. Edmund Gosse spoke to this in Father and Son (1907). (Great classic read btw.) You’d think it’d be old hat by now eh?

    And honestly, a science teacher not believing in creationism is like a math teacher not believing in imaginary numbers. (There, that should confuse some people. >.>) Anyway, my point is, if they don’t believe evolution is true, then they don’t understand it and the proof behind it, and they’re not really qualified as science teachers.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    I read on HuffPo today that 40% of Americans are creationists.

    That’s a lot of fail.

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    In any case, Creationists shouldn’t be teaching public school science classes. They’re as bad as pharmacists who deny women birth control because they oppose it for religious reasons.

    Having a conscientious objection is not at all similar to disagreeing with — or being ignorant of — natural facts.

  • http://www.CoreyMondello.com Corey Mondello

    About same study:Based on data from the National Survey of High School Biology teachers – ‘US Teachers Don’t Teach Evolution’ Only 28 percent of all US biology teachers consistently teach evolutionary biology, while 13 percent explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design. But it’s the remaining “cautious 60 percent” that we really have to worry about, says a new study. [http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/01/us-teachers-dont-teach-evolution]

  • Stephan

    I’m going into the education field right now, and it does seem that most science teachers aren’t actually qualified to be one. A lot of them are qualified to teach maybe chemistry or physics (nothing wrong with those fields or course) but not biology. As a biologist going into the field, I am apparently filling a market desperately in need of candidates.

    Biologists apparently don’t want to teach high school…and with school boards the way they are across the country, can you blame them.

    Regardless, I would like to take a minute to point out how LOW the creationist number is in comparison to the general population. My guess is that the cautious 60% are pressured into that stance by idiot school board members and other administration. My biology teacher in high school, for instance, wasn’t allowed to teach evolution by our school, even though it was part of the curriculum.

    What we need are for these teachers to stand up for what is right and not just let it go to keep face with the administration. If they teach science and they stick to a proper curriculum, any retribution against them will hand them a nice lawsuit.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    Stephan,
    looking at it from outside the USA it seems a HIGH percentage of teachers, who are trained in the scientific method, and have I assume at least a first degree in science, DO support superstition in place of facts, or at least the best explanation we so far have to explain the natural world (without involving a non-scientific intervention).

    You would not find this in other western, secular democracies.

  • Steven

    Hoverfrog says:
    “What is wrong with your country? Enshrined within your own bill of rights is a Constitutional guarantee that the church and state will be separate. Yet it is ignored. Blatantly ignored.

    I hear that Canada is nice.”

    Yes, Canada is nice even though we don’t have any official separation of church and state. We’re so darned polite that even asking about someone’s religious views is considered gauche. Sadly, we do have a separate publically-funded Catholic school system here in Ontario and I really wonder what sort of superstition they are spreading around. As far as I can recall, there was no controversy in my public (non-Catholic) high school science classes back in the 80′s. Evolution was an accepted theory and there was no mention of Genesis.
    My daughters have already been introduced to the idea of evolution at daycare and in their classrooms. It’s a bit of a hard sell trying to get across the concept of millions of years to a five-year old to whom next week is so far away as to be invisible.
    Perhaps the creationist teachers are also finding it too difficult to wrestle with the big numbers. Seven days is so much easier to digest, like the little cookies favoured by toddlers.

  • bernerbits

    Creationism has not and cannot be proven using the scientific method.

    I disagree. The only reason it “cannot” be disproven (falsifiability is key) is because Creationists keep shifting the goalpoasts every time evolutionary scientists provide the evidence they insist does not exist.

  • Stephan

    Michael, you are correct that other secular democracies don’t have the same amount of religious crazies in their education system, but then again neither do their general populations. That was my point.

    The USA has a lot of crazies, and while the production of teachers does seem to cut down on the numbers, it would seem unrealistic to think they should do a lot better. I’m happy that the numbers don’t reflect the population at large…of course I’d be happier if there were no idiot creationists in our schools, but we have a long way to go to get there.

  • http://chandays.blogspot.com Larry Meredith

    can you really blame the 60% for being cautious? Public schools in America are dangerous.


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