High school teachers impart creationism over evolution

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A high percentage of public high school biology teachers are choosing to teach creationism instead of evidence for evolution in their classrooms, according to a survey published in the Jan. 28 issue of “Science.” Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer, political science professors at Pennsylvania State University, anonymously surveyed biology teachers at more than 900 public high schools across the nation in order to compile the information. “We were curious about what was going on in the classrooms,” Berkman said. “We knew that court decisions had regularly said that creationism could not be taught, but we didn’t know how that was translating into classroom behavior.” The survey found that 13 percent of high school teachers — about 117 out of the 900 surveyed — spend much of their class periods strictly emphasizing creationism. In 2005, a federal judge ruled that teaching intelligent design, or creationism, violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The distribution of these particular teachers is relatively even throughout the nation, Berkman said. About 28 percent actually follow the curriculum that teaches evolution, while 60 percent remain neutral and avoid advocating either perspective. Those who chose to remain neutral tend to either encourage students to make up their own mind about each theory or stress that they are only teaching evolution because it is mandated by their curricula. Berkman and Plutzer found that in most cases, teachers who took courses on evolution in college were more likely to teach it rigorously to their students. “We think this is because they have much more confidence in their abilities to take on a subject that can be troublesome and controversial,” Berkman said. Berkman and Plutzer said they would like to increase the percentage of teachers who teach evolution-based biology because it is based on facts. The professors suggested screening out creationist teachers who would be averse to teaching evolution. At UT, many professors focus more on evolution. “Evolution is a general theme that really underlies and connects every other thing in biology,” said biology lecturer John Batterton. “What I try to convey to the students is that they don’t have to believe what I’m presenting to them, but they certainly have to understand what I’m presenting to them.” Several UT students said they have not encountered creationist theories in their classes. “I’ve taken all the introductory biology and genetics courses,” said biology sophomore Kylee Walter. “I haven’t even heard a mention of creationism at all. It’s evolution. That’s the way it is.” Prior to attending UT, students had varied instruction in biology. Human biology junior Chad Whitley learned biology on a molecular level, while public health sophomore Veronica Perry learned both creationist and evolutionary theories. “I understand why there is an equal balance in school where you have to teach both, but I feel like it’s outdated,” Perry said. “If students in high school want to learn about things that have to do with religion, that’s what church is there for.”