Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

No apple for the teacher

Our good friend Jean, in response to my asking for contributions to President Obama's "to do" list, proposes honest, effective, and comprehensive health education. I think that's an excellent addition. Although I'm afraid it may be too hot to handle for the campaign, it's something we're going to need to address after the dust settles in January.

If we're going to have honest and effective health education, it has to start with honest and effective biology education. And here, we have a problem. Michael Berkman and colleagues in the May PLoS Biology lay the bad news on us. Sixteen percent of U.S. high school biology teachers admit to believing that "God created human beings in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years," and 47%, while agreeing that humans developed over millions of years, believe that God guided the process, and one in eight say they teach creationism in a positive light.

Even those teachers who aren't creationists face pressures to give short shrift to evolution. Seventeen percent don't cover human evolution in their classes at all, and more than 3/4 give it less than 5 hours. Only 23% agreed that evolution served as the unifying theme for their biology or life science courses, even though evolution is in fact the unifying theme of biology.

Now, it's no wonder that most American adults don't believe in the reality of evolution. They've been miseducated. Even if their teachers haven't actively taught them falsehoods, if you omit or scant evolution in what purports to be an introduction to biology you misrepresent biology. Since Obama spends an inordinate amount of rhetorical time and energy proclaiming his Christian faith, maybe he can be like Nixon going to China on this issue. Maybe president Obama can establish a policy that in order to be accredited to receive federal education funds, school districts, even in Texas, must adopt curricula that include teaching children the truth about the history and nature of life on earth, including human beings.

Maybe that's just too much to hope for.

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