The real challenge of teaching evolution

The New York Times has an interesting article on the challenge that many science teachers have teaching evolution to a largely fundamentalist student body. Removing legal barriers is obviously only the first step:

David Campbell switched on the overhead projector and wrote “Evolution” in the rectangle of light on the screen.

He scanned the faces of the sophomores in his Biology I class. Many of them, he knew from years of teaching high school in this Jacksonville suburb, had been raised to take the biblical creation story as fact. His gaze rested for a moment on Bryce Haas, a football player who attended the 6 a.m. prayer meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the school gymnasium.

“If I do this wrong,” Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, “I’ll lose him.”

. . .

But in a nation where evangelical Protestantism and other religious traditions stress a literal reading of the biblical description of God’s individually creating each species, students often arrive at school fearing that evolution, and perhaps science itself, is hostile to their faith.

Some come armed with “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution,” a document circulated on the Internet that highlights supposed weaknesses in evolutionary theory. Others scrawl their opposition on homework assignments. Many just tune out.

With a mandate to teach evolution but little guidance as to how, science teachers are contriving their own ways to turn a culture war into a lesson plan. How they fare may bear on whether a new generation of Americans embraces scientific evidence alongside religious belief.

“If you see something you don’t understand, you have to ask ‘why?’ or ‘how?’ ” Mr. Campbell often admonished his students at Ridgeview High School.

Yet their abiding mistrust in evolution, he feared, jeopardized their belief in the basic power of science to explain the natural world — and their ability to make sense of it themselves.

Passionate on the subject, Mr. Campbell had helped to devise the state’s new evolution standards, which will be phased in starting this fall. A former Navy flight instructor not used to pulling his punches, he fought hard for their passage. But with his students this spring, he found himself treading carefully, as he tried to bridge an ideological divide that stretches well beyond his classroom.

It is a wonderful profile of a very good science teacher. Read it all here.

Category : The Lead
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2 Comments
  1. Roger Mortimer

    Of interest, the NYT piece describes (top of p. 4) David Campbell, the Orange Park teacher around whom this piece is written, as “an Anglican who attends church most Sundays”.

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