Saturday, September 14, 2013

Evolution at school: Some things that should, could, and must happen

Well, the children of this great nation are back at school, continuing their improbable transformation into tomorrow's educated, sane, voting adults. On the way they need to pack in some scientific literacy, which involves my special favorite thing: understanding biological evolution.

So, biology teachers of America, you're on deck.

Unfortunately, about 16% of you are creationist and de-emphasize evolution in the classroom. I don't even know what to say about that headscratcher. But many others of you steer clear of evolution to avoid any pushback, or even because the material is a wee bit intimidating.

If so, I am begging you. Begging! For the sake of tomorrow's election results, teach evolution. Whatever it is you have to get over, get over it. The ever-magnificent Understanding Evolution site has all the K-12 curricular resources you could dream of.

And for parents, the similarly-magnificent National Center for Science Education has a nice post on what science teachers can and can't do legally when discussing evolution in public schools. (Those of us in private schools are on our own.) You might be surprised at how frequently some lines are crossed.

A few stories:

Hi, Lucie!
A couple of years ago, my young friend Lucie had a near-death uncomfortable classroom experience with the Giant Evolution Timeline. Starting a unit on dinosaurs, her teacher asked the children what animals lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. Along with answers like "bugs" came "Jesus" and "God," which the teacher added to the list. Lucie knew some of those things really didn't belong, but felt outnumbered and stayed quiet. Later, when the Giant Evolution Timeline came out, things became a bit clearer for everyone, though Lucie is still unsure whether any kids got sorted out about who actually lived when.

Hi, Delaney!
Another young friend named Delaney faced an Orwellian trial at her school a few years back. Her school principal, impressed with Delaney's win in the Evolution & Art contest, asked to interview her about it on the school's closed-circuit TV show. All was good until an anti-evolution school administrator went rogue, telling Delaney on the sly that she wasn't allowed to use the word "evolution" in the interview. So a distraught Delaney had to discuss evolution on camera without using "evolution," feeling ridiculous and weird all along. Her parents responded beautifully -- read the full story here.

Last but not least: A few years ago I went into a local 2nd grade class for a session with the Giant Evolution Timeline. The classroom teacher met me at the door with agitation. "You can't talk about evolution in here," she said, "No, you can't use that word." I was baffled, since it was an invited session, but eventually I was let in. The session went wonderfully, even including that word, and ultimately the teacher was delighted with the whole thing. I'm still confused by what she feared versus what she got.

So keep an ear out for the stories your kids bring home. All of the episodes above occurred in public schools, and only one was in the South.

1 comment:

  1. Ready to have your mind blown? Here, in Texas, at my kids' school, I have been met with nothing but relieved graciousness when I propose talking to their class about evolution. Imagine! I've never gotten push-back from teachers, students, admin, nor parents. Must be Austin keepin' it weird.