NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/03/04
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Opposition to Tennessee's House Bill 368 is mounting. In the meantime, Scientific American offers a detailed report on new challenges for evolution education, and NCSE presents a sample chapter from a new biology textbook, Principles of Life.
OPPOSITION TO ANTIEVOLUTION BILL MOUNTS IN TENNESSEE As a second subcommittee hearing on Tennessee's House Bill 368 approached, the author of The Evolution Controversy in America and the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee were speaking out against the bill. Writing in The Tennesseean (March 1, 2011), George Webb commented, "I find the most recent effort to compromise the quality of science teaching in the public schools ... both curious and disquieting." Acknowledging that it is useful to discuss historical scientific controversies in science classes, he emphasized that the "controversial" topics itemized in HB 368 -- including evolution -- are not scientifically controversial; to claim otherwise "reveals an inadequate grasp of the history and practice of science." Moreover, he argued, "If teachers are expected to examine these so-called controversies in the science classroom, they will obviously have less opportunity to discuss the topics included in the Tennessee Science Framework." Observing that the Framework reflects the consensus of the scientific and science education communities, he remarked, "It is difficult to imagine how teaching less science so that so-called controversies may be included in the curriculum will result in greater scientific knowledge." Webb is professor of history at Tennessee Tech University and the author of The Evolution Controversy in America (University of Kentucky Press, 1994). In a press release dated February 28, 2011, available at the Tennessee Report, Hedy Weinberg wrote, "Eighty-six years after the famous Scopes 'Monkey Trial' in Dayton, Tennessee, anti-evolution forces continue their attempt to entrench creationism in our state's science classrooms," and urged her fellow Tennesseans, "Let's let our lawmakers know that it's not 1925 anymore." She explained, "While at first glance [HB 368] may not appear to promote creationism, the bill's intent is actually to enable creationist teachers to create doubts in their students regarding evolution, doubts which are not scientifically justified. These alleged weaknesses come not from the scientific community but from creationist advocacy organizations. The National Academies of Science and the National Science Teachers Association unanimously agree that evolution needs to be taught straightforwardly and without compromise." Encouraging Tennesseans to express their concerns about HB 368 to their representatives, she concluded, "Tennessee lawmakers need to know that we want Tennessee to move forward, not backward." Weinberg is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. The House General Subcommittee of Education will have its third hearing on the bill at 3:00 p.m. on March 16, 2011; e-mail NCSE's Joshua Rosenau or Steven Newton if you're able to attend. For Webb's column, visit: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20110301/OPINION03/103010346/Legislation-may-hurt-science-studies For Weinberg's press release, visit: http://www.tnreport.com/2011/02/aclu-bill-enables-creationist-teachers-to-create-doubt-of-evolution/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit: http://ncse.com/news/tennessee "NEW CHALLENGES FOR EVOLUTION EDUCATION" In a new in-depth report, Scientific American asks, "Five years after the Dover trial pushed intelligent design out of public school classrooms, how has evolution instruction fared?" Featured are a new article by Lauri Lebo on how "creationists are co-opting some old heroes of the fight to teach evolution in the classroom for their anti-science campaign" and a new interview of Jennifer Miller, one of the science teachers at Dover Senior High School who were affected by the antievolution policy enacted by the Dover Area School Board in 2004, as well as classic articles from previous issues of Scientific American, including "The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom," by NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott. In "The Scopes Strategy: Creationists Try New Tactics to Promote Anti-Evolutionary Teaching in Public Schools," Lauri Lebo discusses the latest manifestation of the campaign to teach, in lieu of creationism, the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution: House Bill 368 and Senate Bill 893 in Tennessee, which a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association described as a "lawyer's dream" containing "some of the most convoluted language I've ever seen in a bill," and which Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, described as "the latest line of attack against evolution in a long-standing campaign," according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel (February 27, 2011). Would the Tennessee bills protect the teaching of "intelligent design"? Lebo reports that their House sponsor, Bill Dunn (R-District 16) claimed that they would not. But their chief lobbyist, David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, claimed that they would -- although a federal court ruled the teaching of "intelligent design" in the public schools to be unconstitutional in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Alluding to Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer's recent commentary in Science, NCSE's Joshua Rosenau observed that in any case, with 60 percent of public high school biology teachers already reluctant to present evolution forthrightly in their classrooms, the bills send a message to teachers to avoid the subject. In "The Education of Jennifer Miller," Nina Bai interviews Jennifer Miller, who still works at Dover Senior High School in Dover, Pennsylvania, where she teaches honors biology and anatomy and physiology. Since the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Miller explained, "I've definitely changed how I teach. The biggest thing is probably that evolution used to be the last thing we got to in the semester. ... Now I put evolution first, and I refer back to it to show how important it is to all topics of biology. ... I'm no longer afraid to cover it in depth and to have in-depth conversations about evolution. ... Now I do cover intelligent design, why it is not science, and why it should not be taught in a science classroom." Miller also highlighted the need for increased coverage of evolution in the training of preservice teachers, saying, "There needs to be a lot more education about how to teach to evolution. ... Maybe as we train new biology teachers -- make sure that we give them what they really need to know -- new teachers can arm themselves with the evidence that's out there. There is tons and tons of evidence for evolution, and it keeps piling up. As a teacher it's hard to stay on top of that." She added, "Teachers must stay on top of this in case there is ever a school board member or community member who tries to institute the 'teach the controversy' rhetoric in their classroom. I think that would be helpful. I hope in five years that people aren't so afraid of the topic, but I'm not optimistic." For the introduction to the report, visit: http://www.scientificamerican.com/report.cfm?id=evolution-education For Lebo's article, visit: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=scopes-creationism-education For the article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, visit: http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/feb/27/dunn-backed-bill-slammed-aclu-leader/ For NCSE's coverage of the Berkman and Plutzer column, visit: http://ncse.com/news/2011/01/too-many-teachers-ignore-evolution-006454 For the interview with Miller, visit: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-education-of-jennifer-miller A PREVIEW OF PRINCIPLES OF LIFE NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of David M. Hillis, David Sadava, H. Craig Heller, and Mary V. Price's new textbook Principles of Life (Sinauer Associates and W. H. Freeman, 2010). The excerpt constitutes the whole of chapter 15, "Mechanisms of Evolution," and offers as seven "key concepts" the principles that evolution is both factual and the basis of broader theory; that mutation, selection, gene flow, genetic drift, and nonrandom mating result in evolution; that evolution can be measured by changes in allele frequencies; that selection can be stabilizing, directional, or disruptive; that genomes reveal both neutral and selective processes of evolution; that recombination, lateral gene transfer, and gene duplication can result in new features; and that evolutionary theory has practical applications. The publishers proclaim, "Numerous recent studies ... confirm what a growing number of educators already know: the typical majors biology textbook has become too long, too detailed, and too expensive. ... Written in the spirit of the reform movement that is reinvigorating the introductory majors course, Principles of Life cuts through the thicket of excessive detail and factual minutiae to focus on what matters most in the study of biology today. Students explore the most essential biological ideas and information in the context of the field's defining experiments, and are actively engaged in analyzing research data. The result is a textbook that is hundreds of pages shorter (and significantly less expensive) than the current majors introductory books." For the preview of Principles of Life (PDF), visit: http://ncse.com/files/pub/evolution/Excerpt--Principlesoflife.pdf For information on the book from its publishers, visit: http://www.sinauer.com/detail.php?id=7213 http://www.whfreeman.com/hillispreview/ 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