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Technology

The Trials of Teaching Evolution in 2008

Reality BaseBy Melissa LafskyAugust 27, 2008 8:51 PM

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The New York Times has a report this week on the hoops teachers are jumping through to teach evolution in public schools. Specifically, it follows the efforts of David Campbell, a Florida biology teacher who does an astonishing job of compromising, tip-toeing, and cajoling, all to get his students to accept—and maybe even learn—the process of evolution. Overall, the piece paints a bleak picture for teachers, made all the worse by the lack of a clear nationwide mandate for teaching the subject. Despite all the scientific evidence we have, some states are still stacking obstacles in the path of instructors who want to devote class time to human evolution. This summer, Louisiana passed a law protecting the right of local schools to teach "alternative" (i.e., non-scientific) theories for the origin of species, while the Florida Department of Education didn't explicitly require its public schools to teach evolution—or, as the legislature calls it, "the organizing principle of life science"—until February of 2008. Even if teachers manage to dodge sketchy state restrictions, there's still the matter of parents. Campbell, who helped write Florida's standards on teaching evolution, found himself barraged with complaints from angry parents when he taught the subject, and was even undermined by his colleague and fellow bio teacher, who offered a competing lesson plan she called "Evolution or NOT." (Her backup plan for what to tell particularly curious students? "I think God did it.") The U.S. is teetering on the edge of losing its place as the world's premiere harbor for science research. With experts already foretelling our demise as a science superpower—and, with China already set to surpass the U.S. in published physics papers by 2012, there's been nothing to suggest the predictions are wrong—we're not doing ourselves any favors by undermining basic science education with religious dogma. It's tragic to think that tomorrow's preeminent biochemists or geneticists could be sidelined by high school lessons questioning whether there's Biblical evidence for the origin of human life.

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