"New challenges for evolution education"


In a new in-depth report, Scientific American asks, "Five years after the Dover trial pushed intelligent design out of public school classrooms, how has evolution instruction fared?" Featured are a new article by Lauri Lebo on how "creationists are co-opting some old heroes of the fight to teach evolution in the classroom for their anti-science campaign" and a new interview of Jennifer Miller, one of the science teachers at Dover Senior High School who were affected by the antievolution policy enacted by the Dover Area School Board in 2004, as well as classic articles from previous issues of Scientific American, including "The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom," by NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott.

In "The Scopes Strategy: Creationists Try New Tactics to Promote Anti-Evolutionary Teaching in Public Schools," Lauri Lebo discusses the latest manifestation of the campaign to teach, in lieu of creationism, the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution: House Bill 368 and Senate Bill 893 in Tennessee, which a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association described as a "lawyer's dream" containing "some of the most convoluted language I've ever seen in a bill," and which Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, described as "the latest line of attack against evolution in a long-standing campaign," according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel (February 27, 2011).

Would the Tennessee bills protect the teaching of "intelligent design"? Lebo reports that their House sponsor, Bill Dunn (R-District 16) claimed that they would not. But their chief lobbyist, David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, claimed that they would — although a federal court ruled the teaching of "intelligent design" in the public schools to be unconstitutional in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Alluding to Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer's recent commentary in Science, NCSE's Joshua Rosenau observed that in any case, with 60 percent of public high school biology teachers already reluctant to present evolution forthrightly in their classrooms, the bills send a message to teachers to avoid the subject.

In "The Education of Jennifer Miller," Nina Bai interviews Jennifer Miller, who still works at Dover Senior High School in Dover, Pennsylvania, where she teaches honors biology and anatomy and physiology. Since the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Miller explained, "I've definitely changed how I teach. The biggest thing is probably that evolution used to be the last thing we got to in the semester. ... Now I put evolution first, and I refer back to it to show how important it is to all topics of biology. ... I'm no longer afraid to cover it in depth and to have in-depth conversations about evolution. ... Now I do cover intelligent design, why it is not science, and why it should not be taught in a science classroom."

Miller also highlighted the need for increased coverage of evolution in the training of preservice teachers, saying, "There needs to be a lot more education about how to teach to evolution. ... Maybe as we train new biology teachers — make sure that we give them what they really need to know — new teachers can arm themselves with the evidence that's out there. There is tons and tons of evidence for evolution, and it keeps piling up. As a teacher it's hard to stay on top of that." She added, "Teachers must stay on top of this in case there is ever a school board member or community member who tries to institute the 'teach the controversy' rhetoric in their classroom. I think that would be helpful. I hope in five years that people aren't so afraid of the topic, but I'm not optimistic."