NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/01/28
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, A column in Science deplores "a pervasive reluctance of teachers to forthrightly explain evolutionary biology." Meanwhile, teachers in Illinois add their voice for evolution, Darwin Day and Evolution Weekend are approaching, and the publisher of creationist textbooks indicates its plans to submit supplementary materials for state approval in Texas.
TOO MANY TEACHERS IGNORE EVOLUTION Despite the latest victories over creationism, "considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America's classrooms," according to Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer. Writing in the January 28, 2011, issue of Science, Berkman and Plutzer review the results of their National Survey of High School Biology Teachers. "The data reveal a pervasive reluctance of teachers to forthrightly explain evolutionary biology," with only 28% of teachers deemed effective educators with respect to evolution -- and with as many as 13% of teachers explicitly advocating creationism. As for the remaining 60%, Berkman and Plutzer suggest that they "may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists ... even if unintentionally." What is the solution? While recommending continued participation in legal battles and outreach efforts, Berkman and Plutzer importantly suggest that "increased focus be placed on preservice teachers ... Requiring an evolution course for all preservice biology teachers, as well as provision of resources to provide such a course, would likely lead to meaningful improvement in secondary school science instruction." Quoting Glenn Branch, Eugenie C. Scott, and Joshua Rosenau's recent "Dispatches from the Evolution Wars" in Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, they conclude, "focusing on the preservice stage may be 'the most effective way for scientists to help to improve the understanding of evolution' ... Combined with continued successes in courtrooms and the halls of state government, this approach offers our best chance of increasing the science literacy of future generations." Berkman and Plutzer are both professors of political science at Pennsylvania State University. They are the authors, with Julianna Sandell Pacheco, of "Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait" (published in PLoS Biology in 2008) and of Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms (Cambridge University Press, 2010), which NCSE's Glenn Branch described as "[a] tour de force," adding, "Berkman and Plutzer's analysis of who really decides what is taught about evolution in America's public schools is incisive and insightful, thorough and thoughtful. Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the evolution wars." Additionally, they chat about their Science column and their research with Yun Xie in a January 27, 2011, blog post on Ars Technica. For Berkman and Plutzer's column in Science (subscription required), visit: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/331/6016/404.full For "Dispatches from the Evolution Wars," visit: http://ncse.com/news/2010/10/dispatches-from-evolution-wars-006257 For the article in PLoS Biology, visit: http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.0060124 For information about Berkman and Plutzer's book, visit http://www.cambridge.org/us/knowledge/isbn/item5010363 For the Ars Technica interview, visit: http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/01/taking-the-creationismevolution-battle-to-training-teachers.ars ILLINOIS TEACHERS ADD THEIR VOICE FOR EVOLUTION The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with a statement from the Illinois Federation of Teachers, representing over 80,000 educational professionals in the state. Observing that evolution "is the foundation of biological science, is supported by a coherent body of integrated evidence from other disciplines in science and is consistent with theories from other scientific disciplines including anthropology, geology, physics, astronomy and chemistry," the statement affirms "the validity and foundational importance of organic evolution to science as a whole and biology, specifically," and calls on its members to "assist those engaged in overseeing science education policy to understand the nature of science, the content of contemporary evolutionary theory and the inappropriateness of including non-science subjects (e.g., intelligent design and creationism) in our science curriculum." The statement is now reproduced, by permission, on NCSE's website, and will also be contained in the fourth edition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution. For the statement (#11 on the list), visit: http://www.ift-aft.org/AboutIFT/Resolutions/2010.aspx And for Voices for Evolution, visit: http://ncse.com/voices DARWIN DAY APPROACHES It's time to dust off your Darwin costume again: less than a month remains before Darwin Day 2011! Colleges and universities, schools, libraries, museums, churches, civic groups, and just plain folks across the country -- and the world -- are preparing to celebrate Darwin Day, on or around February 12, in honor of the life and work of Charles Darwin. These events provide a marvelous opportunity not only to celebrate Darwin's birthday but also to engage in public outreach about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education -- which is especially needed with assaults on evolution education currently ongoing in Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. NCSE encourages its members and friends to attend, participate in, and even organize Darwin Day events in their own communities. To find a local event, check the websites of local universities and museums and the registry of Darwin Day events maintained by the Darwin Day Celebration website. (And don't forget to register your own event with the Darwin Day Celebration website!) And with Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend! Hundreds of congregations all over the country and around the world are taking part in Evolution Weekend, February 11-13, 2011, by presenting sermons and discussion groups on the compatibility of faith and science. Michael Zimmerman, the initiator of the project, writes, "Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic -- to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letter itself, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy." At last count, 575 congregations in all fifty states (and thirteen foreign countries) were scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events. For the Darwin Day registry, visit: http://www.darwinday.org/events/ http://www.darwinday.org/events/register.php For information about Evolution Weekend, visit: http://www.evolutionweekend.org/ IMPENDING BATTLE OVER SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL IN TEXAS The Texas Freedom Network warns, in a January 20, 2011, press release, that "the war on science is officially back on in Texas." The opening salvo was the appearance of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics -- perhaps best known as the publisher of Of Pandas and People -- on a list of publishers intending to submit supplementary science curriculum material for approval by the Texas state board of education. Of Pandas and People is the "intelligent design" textbook that was at the center of Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case in which the teaching of "intelligent design" in the public schools was ruled to be unconstitutional. During the trial, Barbara Forrest's argument that "intelligent design" was a relabeling of creationism was bolstered by the fact that in drafts of Of Pandas and People, the word "creation" was systematically replaced with the word "design" just after the 1987 Supreme Court ruling that teaching creationism in the public schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Before the trial, FTE unsuccessfully sought to intervene in the case by becoming a co-defendant along with the Dover Area School Board. In a July 2005 hearing, FTE's president Jon Buell told the court that FTE was not a religious organization -- only to be confronted on cross-examination with a copy of FTE's tax return, on which its primary purpose was described as "promoting and publishing textbooks presenting a Christian perspective," and a copy of its articles of incorporation, according to which its purposes include "making known the Christian gospel and understanding of the Bible." Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller commented, "In 2009 the State Board of Education approved new science curriculum standards that opened the door to creationist materials in Texas classrooms. Today we saw that one prominent creationist group intends to walk through that door." Miller added, "Getting their materials in public schools has long been a top priority for creationists, and it's clear that they intend to make Texas their flagship. Teaching inaccurate information rejected by the scientific community would be a huge disservice to Texas kids and a major setback for science education everywhere." Materials submitted for approval will be available for public review in March 2011 and will also undergo review by panels of citizens, educators, and scientists to ensure their conformity to the state's science standards and their factual accuracy. The state board of education is expected to vote on the materials in April 2011; materials approved by the board will be available for purchase by local school districts. For TFN's press release, visit: http://tfninsider.org/2011/01/20/of-pandas-and-texas/ For information on FTE and Pandas in the Kitzmiller case, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/forrests-testimony-creationism-id http://ncse.com/news/2005/07/fte-seeks-to-intervene-dover-00665 Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it. -- Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x310 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/membership