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Schools Don’t Teach Evolution Dogmatically Because They’re…Underfunded?

Sarah Chaffee


Here’s a new one: Schools don’t teach evolution dogmatically because they are underfunded. Over at the National Center for Science Education, Emily Schoerning writes about her experiences and observations of public school education nationwide, highlighting dire financial straits faced by some teachers in states such as Alaska and Iowa. She notes:

I asked teachers [at the National Science Teachers Association Congress] what material supply they most needed, and by far the most common response was paper. Teachers described the frustration, and the humiliation, of needing to beg for paper.

She goes on:

We know, at NCSE, that a lot of science teachers hedge when they teach evolution or climate change, or avoid them altogether. Those are the teachers who make up the yellow bars on the graph below. [See her post for the accompanying graphic, comparing “denial,” “avoidance,” and “sound teaching” on evolution and climate change.]

Many of the teachers I talked with would fall into that yellow zone [“avoidance”]. Some people reading this may wonder what the heck is wrong with those teachers. Why don’t they just teach the science?

I can tell you, from talking with many teachers who do hedge, that most of them are great teachers — dedicated, hard-working professionals. And they are out there fighting the good fight in places where teaching these topics is really challenging. Think about the struggles they are facing in their classrooms. The inadequate supplies, the inadequate support, the hungry students. Would you leap headfirst into controversy in such a situation, or would you do what good you could? Would you really want to cause yourself more trouble?

We should see those yellow bars as indicator lights telling us that nearly sixty percent of American teachers aren’t getting the support they need to do their jobs.

First, this is not a valid inference. Other than the author’s assertion, is there anything here to demonstrate any sort of causation?

Second, this is an emotional appeal, and a tendentious one. Yes, many, many schools are underfunded and this is a problem in need of attention. In fact, please do get involved. A quick Google search for donate to underfunded schools shows that there are organizations you can partner with that work directly to address this problem, which extends beyond science education.

I appreciate that the NCSE cares about school funding, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to link that issue with questions about climate science or evolution. Our only hope for adequately meeting this, or any other serious challenge, is to focus on the problem itself, identifying the causes and comparing various plans of action as to the impact they would actually have.

Photo: School cafeteria, by the Library of Virginia [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.