Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Science teaching deteriorates

I remember seeing Inherit the Wind when I was a child and marveling that some people could be so threatened by the concept of evolution. And I was fortunate to study biology in the 60s - when science teaching was truly at its zenith. This was in a public high school in a suburb of Washington D.C. I loved the labs passionately - - - using a microscope, learning to dissect. That was the year during which I first heard the term, "ecosystem" and I developed an awed appreciation of interconnectedness. I spent untold numbers of hours in the Natural History Museum of the Smithsonian Institute studying paleontology for my big class project and loved every minute of it. And so it grieves me horribly to learn how the teaching of biology is deteriorating in our public schools. Yesterday's New York Times published an article entitled "Evolution Takes a Back Seat in U.S. Classes" which discusses just that.

Dr. John Frandsen, a retired zoologist, was at a dinner for teachers in Birmingham, Ala., recently when he met a young woman who had just begun work as a biology teacher in a small school district in the state. Their conversation turned to evolution.

"She confided that she simply ignored evolution because she knew she'd get in trouble with the principal if word got about that she was teaching it," he recalled. "She told me other teachers were doing the same thing."

Though the teaching of evolution makes the news when officials propose, as they did in Georgia, that evolution disclaimers be affixed to science textbooks, or that creationism be taught along with evolution in biology classes, stories like the one Dr. Frandsen tells are more common.

In districts around the country, even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom, according to researchers who follow the issue.
Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, said she heard "all the time" from teachers who did not teach evolution "because it's just too much trouble."

"Or their principals tell them, 'We just don't have time to teach everything so let's leave out the things that will cause us problems,' " she said.

I do recommend that you read the whole article. (You will need to register with the New York Times to do so but its worth it, really.) I'm aware that the present extreme right wing movement that has such influence in the country right now began by people within the movement working to get on local school boards. It occurs to me that we progressives need to do the same thing. We need to work to gain some influence regarding the education of our young people or we're going to descend into a new academic dark age. I do so grieve for the students who are being shortchanged.

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