Pennsylvania Science Teachers Teach Creationism as Science

Pennsylvania science teachers teach creationism.  It really should come as no surprise, since that is the case for science teachers in public schools across the country.  But every new batch of data offers some new insight.

Thanks to the ever-vigilant Sensuous Curmudgeon, we see a new survey from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  It doesn’t contain any mind-blowingly unexpected results, but the facts on the ground in the evolution/creation/intelligent design controversy are always mind blowing.

This survey collected results from 106 science teachers from the Keystone State.  The responses show us once again that there is no bright line between science and religion in many public-school classrooms.  For instance, while 90% of teachers said they believe in evolution, 19% listed creationism as their belief, while 13% claimed to believe in intelligent design.  Unfortunately, the survey did not require respondents to define what they meant by any of these terms.

But even with these results, we see that for many science teachers, it is entirely possible to claim both creationism and evolution as beliefs.  Teachers could choose more than one label, and many did.

As we might expect, teachers’ beliefs seem to carry over into their classroom practice.  One teacher claimed to spend five class periods teaching evolution and one class teaching creationism.

Another accused the newspaper of conducting a witch hunt to identify and persecute Biblical Christians.

One teacher warned his students against tools such as radiocarbon dating, since they contradicted the Bible.

In each of these cases, teachers insisted their school administrators approved of their classroom practice.

Most intriguing, one anonymous teacher—the one who taught one creationism class among five classes about evolution—confirmed the findings of political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer.  Though Berkman and Plutzer hail from Penn State, they collected data from across the nation.  “Many teachers’ individual values,” they concluded, “match up well with those of the district in which they teach” (30).  Stricter state standards and certification rules, Berkman and Plutzer argued, will not make a decisive impact.  Instead, teachers tend to teach the ideas and values of their local communities.

This teacher agreed.  “Most parents and officials,” this teacher from Indiana County—just west of Pittsburgh—reported, “do not want evolution ‘crammed’ into their children.  They have serious philosophical/religious issues with public schools dictating to their students how to interpret the origins of life.”

For those like me who want to see more and better evolution education in public schools, this survey confirms the difficulty of the task.  Just as schools cannot be charged with solving poverty, so school science cannot fairly be asked to change our culture’s beliefs.  In the case of evolution, creation, and intelligent design, those beliefs are far different from what mainstream scientists might like to see.  Instead of locating the problem in science classrooms, we need to understand the true dimensions of this controversy.

 

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2 Comments

  1. willbell123

     /  May 7, 2013

    Those numbers don’t add up to 100% though, they add up to 122%…

    Reply
    • Right…that’s what makes it so interesting. In this survey, teachers could mark more than one box, and many did.

      Reply

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