Many high school teachers are failing to teach their students evolution, widening the learning gap between high school and college biology, an Ohio State professor says.
The Jan. 28 edition of Science magazine published the survey of 926 public high school biology instructors around the country. Researchers found that only 28 percent of responding professors teach evolution strictly along guidelines established by the National Research Council, a group of science-based public organizations operating under a congressional charter Abraham Lincoln issued in 1863 to increase public scientific knowledge.
Thirteen percent of respondents teach only creationism.
The remaining 60 percent endorse neither evolution nor creationism, avoiding the controversy all together, the study claimed, dubbing them the “cautious 60 percent.”
The study’s co-author and contact Eric Plutzer, political science professor at Penn State University, could not be reached for comment.
Steve Rissing, professor in OSU’s Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology (EEOB), said the survey’s results do not surprise him.
“I think everybody knows what they said is the case,” Rissing said. “They’re just the first ones to quantify it.”
Rissing routinely teaches Biology 102, and said not enough students are being properly taught evolution.
“There’s a growing gap between what they’re getting in high school and what we expect them to have when they come into college,” Rissing said. “A great disservice is being done.”
For Bob Garbe, the disservice to the students is from the other direction.
“I believe high school kids are much brighter than we give them credit,” said Garbe, who serves on the board of directors at the Creation Research, Science Education Foundation in West Chester, Ohio. “If you can present a reasonable argument with reasonable evidence, they can draw reasonable conclusions.”
Garbe said creationism stands on firmer scientific evidence than evolution, and that creationism is not religious.
“It’s not religion. It’s data,” Garbe said. “It’s not a religious point of view that I believe there’s a creator out there.”
Numerous federal judges have disagreed with Garbe.
The most recent case was in 2005, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District. The U.S. District Court for Middle Pennsylvania found the Dover (Pa.) High School board’s requirement of biology teachers to read a one-minute statement to students on evolution and intelligent design (creationism’s other moniker) violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
The board’s disclaimer said Darwin’s theory of evolution “is not fact,” that there are “gaps” in the theory lacking evidence and that “Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.”
Judge John Jones III, a George W. Bush appointee, heard the case and ruled that not only was the teaching of intelligent design unconstitutional, but the theory itself was not science.
“That a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or misrepresent well-established scientific propositions,” Jones wrote in his 139-page decision.
Michael Gerhardt, professor of constitutional law at the University of North Carolina, said the issue boils down to whether teaching creationism is an establishment of religion.
“If they’re teaching creationism in class, they’re making reference to a supreme being,” Gerhardt said. “The opinion (of the court) has been that’s not something schools ought to be teaching.”
Garbe, however, said judges have been incorrectly applying the First Amendment to creationism cases.
“The Establishment Clause is taken out of context,” Garbe said, pointing to what is actually known as the Free Exercise Clause, which says Congress can’t prohibit the free exercise of religion. “I’m not talking about exercising my religion in science class. I’m talking about looking at the data and drawing a conclusion.”
Rissing claims the data is on his side.
“The fundamentals of what gets taught in GEC courses and in high school have overwhelming empirical support,” Rissing said. “There’s no biological controversy. It’s a created controversy for political purposes.”
Tyler Fitzgerald, a first-year in sport and leisure studies, said he was taught only evolution in high school, and creationism does not belong in a science class.
“I’m not one to judge anyone’s beliefs, but creationism is faith,” Fitzgerald said. “Faith isn’t science.”
Gerhardt said despite past court rulings, the attempt to teach creationism in public schools is not likely to disappear.
“The precedent’s been very clearly set,” Gerhardt said. “But that doesn’t keep states from trying to challenge them.”