29% of teachers think creationism should be taught as science? I don’t think so!

29% of teachers think creationism should be taught as science? I don’t think so! November 7, 2008

That’s the headline in the Guardian’s article: Creationism should be taught as science, say 29% of teachers. Sure enough, they have the data to prove it:

29% said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the government’s guidelines on teaching evolution which states that “creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science national curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science”. Fifty-three per cent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.

But who are these chumps, and is it fair to malign the whole teaching profession because of what they think? Well yes, it would be if the survey was worth a damn. But it isn’t. Just take a look….

First, it’s not a survey of teachers, but a survey of people who’ve signed up to the Teachers TV website (OK, they reckon that 95% of them are teachers). What Teacher’s TV did was send out a questionnaire to the 10,600 individuals on their email list (so that’s a self-selected sample of 10,000 out of around 400,000 primary and secondary school teachers in the UK). These are not science teachers, but any teachers (infant school teachers, art teachers, religious studies teachers…), many of whom have no understanding of or input into science teaching.

Of these only 1210 responded! So what we have reported as the views of ‘teachers’ is in fact just the views of those 11% who could be bothered to respond. And of course, you know who they are. They’re the ones who have a bee in their bonnet about creationism.

So, more realistically, it could be that as few as 3% of teachers favour teaching creationism (assuming that the Teachers TV email list is a representative sample of teachers, which it probably is not).

248 of the respondents said they were science teachers. 18% of them said that creationism should be given the same weight as evolution. That’s just 45 science teachers. In the whole of the UK! I don’t think it justifies the headlines, to be honest.

This is similar to the daft reporting by The Telegraph of an earlier study: Creationism should be taught in science lessons, say teachers. Apparently:

Some 36 per cent of teachers quizzed said they believed a divine hand played a role in the creation of humanity, while 28 per cent said it should be raised in lessons.

But who are these teachers that they quizzed? Well, they are a mix of 66 science teachers and religious education teachers. So what we have here is probably 100% of religious education teachers thinking that there was a divine hand at work, and 0% of science teachers.

The Telegraph’s reporting is shoddy and particularly disappointing, because what they’ve done is turn the science teacher’s very reasonable response (that religious interpretations should be discussed if they crop up) into a headline that says that teachers think creationism should be taught in science lessons. In other words, is exactly what science educators were warning would happen as a result of Reiss’s call for creationism to discussed in science lessons. The media doesn’t understand the difference between tackling religious-based objections to evolution (which science teachers mostly accept that they should do), and teaching creationism as an alternative to evolution (which they almost universally think that they should not).

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