Is the future of science education in danger?
An anthropologist warns Florida has laws that are a back-door entrance to teaching creationist theory in schools. At a lecture Thursday night in Tampa as part of USFâs Darwin Day celebration, Eugenie Scott says thatâs hurting the quality of science education in the state.
Students, professors and the public filled nearly every seat in USFâs Fine Arts Hall. Jamie Delgato was one student in attendance.
âWell the whole creationism versus evolution thing has been very politicized, and as a political science major, it really interests me how this thing plays out, because it has an effect on the rest of the country.â
Eugenie Scott is the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, a non-profit organization leading the movement of science and educators against the teaching of creationism and intelligent design. In her talk she said evolution is the core of physical anthropology, but it has some negative public perception. She shared an anecdote about a colleague teaching a university level class.
âAnd after a couple of weeks, she noticed that a couple of students were looking kind of curious. And they came up to her after the lecture and said, âWell of course living things change through time, of course species change through time! You mean thatâs evolution? We thought evolution meant you canât believe in God.â
Since the 1960s, the US Supreme Court has ruled that teaching creationism in public school science classrooms is unconstitutional and illegal. Scott says opponents to these rulings are trying different strategies to get around the law.
âThe Academic Freedom Bills, though, are very clever. This is a sample bill, which you can find on the Internet. The wording that they use if very positive. Theyâre trying to advance science. Theyâre promoting academic freedom. Raise your hand if youâre against academic freedom. No, of course not everyone is for academic freedom. Raise your hand if you donât want--if you are against critical thinking. Of course, everyone wants their kids to be critical thinkers.â
Scott says the legislation is hurting both teachers and students. She says itâs causing teachers to avoid the controversy all together.
âYou give an assignment a kid writes a paper back thatâs just full of his own personal opinion about why he thinks evolution is dumb, and why he thinks the bible is correct and on and on and on. And you knowâ¦ didnât answer the question, but how is the teacher going to grade that? If the teacher grades the paper down, the studentâs parent comes in and stands on his desk, maybe threatens to sue. Itâs just too much work. So what a lot of teachers will do in a situation like that is just roll their eyes and say, âYou know, gotta spend an extra week on photosynthesis, we probably arenât going to get to evolution this semester.ââ
There is a gap in public and scientific opinion about evolution. Scott presented a 2009 study from the Pew Research Foundation, which found that 87% of scientists think that humans have evolved due to natural processes, while only 32% of the public shares this opinion. She says science curriculum should be based on science, not politics.
âThe United States has to start filling the science research pipeline with students from North America. We wonât be able to depend on foreign students forever. To do that we need first rate science education in our K - 12 schools and in our universities. And weâre not going to be doing that if we continue to politicize instruction by making the content of our curricula captive to elected officials with agendas.â
Scott says the controversy is not because of poor science or lack of support for evolution, but because some see it as being incompatible with certain religious beliefs. She hopes that in the future that these ideas can be reconciled. Scott will also be visiting with Tampa high school science students for hands-on lab-based activities.comments powered by Disqus