High school biology teachers refuse to teach evolution

Posted by Emma Woollacott

High school biology teachers need more training to, um, help them understand and thus believe in basic tenets of biology.

That's the conclusion of Penn State scientists, who discovered that most are reluctant to teach evolutionary theory in class. The report comes just two days after a warning from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that the US is slipping down the world league tables in terms of the quality of its science education.

Only about 28 percent of high school biology teachers consistently implement National Research Council recommendations and provide evidence that evolution occurred, crafting lesson plans with evolution as a unifying theme.

Indeed, 13 percent of biology teachers 'explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light', they say.

Many of these actually rejected the possibility that scientific methods could shed light on the origin of the species - pretty much implying that they saw their entire job as a fraud.

Another 60 percent tried to cop out of the question altogether. Some of these teach evolutionary biology as if it applies only to molecular biology.

Others undermine the whole curriculum and "tell students it does not matter if they really 'believe' in evolution, so long as they know it for the test," the researchers say.

Finally, many teachers expose their students to all positions, scientific and otherwise, and let them make up their own minds. But while this approach might at first seem reasonable, say the team,  "this approach tells students that well established concepts can be debated in the same way we debate personal opinions."

In other words, we don't encourage children to make up their own minds about whether the world orbits the sun or vice versa.

And it's these 60 percent that most worry the scientists: "They may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists," they say.