Today, I had a brief meeting with our Ass't. Superintendent in charge of Curriculum. She is my "boss" in terms of the district portion of my contract. The topic of the moment: the "e" word. Come closer and I'll whisper it in your ear.
My gosh. Do we teach it? I assumed that she wasn't using the royal we, but rather just a plain old plural pronoun. Do science teachers in this district teach evolution? All of the ones teaching life sciences? Do we have teachers who refuse to teach it? Do we have staff who also bring in elements of Creationism and/or Intelligent Design (which are the same, as far as I'm concerned)? What about origins of life, as opposed to change over time?
I didn't know the answers to all of these questions. It does appear that our junior high teachers are afraid of the topic, although I have helped one school obtain curriculum materials. High school teachers don't shy away from evolution. Yes, I do know one teacher who is adamantly opposed to the theory of evolution...but he doesn't teach biology anymore.
The standards for Washington state are pretty basic in terms of evolution---and there is nothing about the origins of life. And while I know that we are bound to have some objections from members of the public at some point, there really isn't a lot for them to fuss about. I have been tasked with surveying what is happening at various schools and then drafting a statement that all teachers can use if they are prodded about this issue. I think that this is a very wise idea. I'd much rather be proactive...be prepared in case members of the public come with their questions and objections.
The other thing I had to clarify for my boss is what it means for something to be a scientific theory. I have all too often heard people toss off evolution as being "just a theory." You know, so is gravity. And the Earth orbiting the Sun? It's only a theory. Atomic bonding? Same thing. Just a little ole theory about what holds things together. Now, all of these concepts are built upon repeated observations and valid experimentation---some even have mathematical formulas used to describe and support them. In other words, they are based upon facts. A common interpretation of a collection of facts becomes a theory. No one has ever sat at a fixed point out in space to watch and see if the Earth really does orbit the Sun. We're pretty sure that it works this way, but no one has seen it...only evidence for it.
Here are some other facts for you to consider. They are taken from an article entitled "How Well Do Biology Teachers Understand the Legal Issues Associated with the Teaching of Evolution?" by Randy Moore. It is from the September 2004 issue of Bioscience.
- Teachers are not required or permitted to give equal time to creationism if they teach evolution.
- They do not have to modify their teaching of evolution to appease students who claim that evolution offends and is incompatible with their religious views. In other words, if a kid refuses to participate in an assignment for such a unit, then s/he doesn't get a grade.
- The government can use tax money to promote the teaching of evolution but cannot use tax money to promote creationism, creationism-based books, or creationism-based exhibits.
- The First Amendment does not entitle a science teacher to teach creationism.
- A school can force a teacher to teach evolution and to stop teaching creationism.
The other thing that has to be considered in all of this is that it is not the school board, the Curriculum office/director for the district, and not even the teacher who determines the "what" that occurs within a classroom. The state has set the curriculum. In our state, it includes evolution.
Should be interesting to see what happens, don't you think?