You are here

Educational policy and terminology

In order to attract the attention of textbook-purchasing teachers and administrators, Explore Evolution claims it is utilizing the most up-to-date science pedagogy. "Inquiry-based" education is indeed an approach encouraged in most states' science education standards, and teachers should be encouraged to find ways for students to apply the scientific method in the process of learning science. An inquiry-based approach is one in which students, under the guidance of the teacher, actively construct an understanding of a scientific explanation. It involves active learning, rather than passive absorption of facts, and often utilizes hands-on exercises to help students learn to think like a scientist.

Unlike the claim made in Explore Evolution,inquiry-based education does not require students to evaluate "arguments scientists have had and are having, about current theories in light of the evidence." The purpose of a middle school or high school science classroom is to provide students with a sound understanding of the basics of a scientific discipline upon which (ideally) they can build a further understanding. It is not to encourage beginning learners to debate cutting-edge scientific research which they have inadequate background to evaluate. The supposed goals of inquiry-learning as presented in Explore Evolution bear little kinship to how this approach is understood by educators.

Similarly, Explore Evolution is incorrect that inquiry-learning assumes that "students gain a better understanding of a subject if they are taught about the arguments that scientists have in the process of formulating their theories." Students certainly can profit from looking at the history of the development of evolutionary biology, but this is not what the authors of Explore Evolution are proposing. Instead, they want students to investigate alleged arguments among scientists over the "truth" of evolution, an argument that takes place only in the creationist literature, not in the university science classrooms or professional scientific journals.

According to the authors, students will become better critical thinkers after undertaking the "critical analysis of evolution" presented in Explore Evolution. And yet students are never given the opportunity to develop and test their own hypotheses, and are rarely if ever given the information they would need to undertake such an exercise. On the contrary, the inaccurate information presented in Explore Evolution, would handicap any student actually trying to construct an understanding of evolution. Thus in this book, "critical analysis of evolution" is translated to "criticize evolution". Needless to say, this is far cry from true inquiry-based education.

The authors are partly correct when they contend that inquiry-learning makes science more interesting and enjoyable, and controversy may indeed pique student interest in a subject. But how much more appropriate it would be to use an actual scientific controversy within evolution, rather than a nonexistent one: evolutionary biologists are not debating whether evolution occurred, only the details.