Many Teachers Still Avoid Teaching Evolution or Teach Creationism

Many Teachers Still Avoid Teaching Evolution or Teach Creationism November 21, 2018

Ann Reid, who took over as Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education when my friend Genie Scott retired, has a column in the LA Times about how it’s still difficult for many teachers to teach evolution in their courses despite curriculum requirements, so many of them avoid it. And many are still teaching creationism too.

And yet teaching evolution is still challenging in many communities in the United States. Opposition arises because many people mistakenly believe that accepting evolution is incompatible with their religious faith. This point of view is widespread: In a rigorous national survey published in 2008, more than 20% of public high school biology teachers reported experiencing pressure to downplay evolution…

With evolution still a matter of political controversy, it’s understandable that a teacher who wants to cover evolution forthrightly might feel some trepidation, or a teacher who is inclined to skip the topic might feel justified. Indeed, about 60% of the surveyed teachers reported downplaying evolution, covering it incompletely or ignoring it altogether.

So it is not enough to include evolution in state science standards, textbooks and local curricula. To ensure students learn about evolution, we first need teachers who have a confident grasp of evolutionary biology. It is a concern that only about half of the high school biology teachers surveyed held a bachelor’s degree in biology and only around 40% had taken a course specifically in evolution. Many states are incentivizing science teachers to achieve more rigorous qualifications, but it will take time to undo decades — generations even — of evolution avoidance.

Those same surveys show that about 15% are teaching creationism as an alternative to evolution. And they continue to get away with it because no one complains. This is why I have long encouraged parents with children in public schools, or just local science advocates, use Freedom of Information Act requests to get the materials being used in the science courses there. You have a right to see all supplemental materials being used, whether it’s handouts or movies or whatever else. Only when it becomes known that it’s being taught can we go in and file legal challenges.

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