science class 3.0

Creationism gains a foothold when teachers explain evolution badly. Let's change that.
fiery fundamentalist fire and brimstone

Creationists are one of the best things to happen to evolutionary biology in a long time. Yes, you read that right. When they’re not trying to compare scientists to Nazis and declare that evolution is nothing more than a bureaucracy (Ben Stein you broke my heart you bastard), they’re making the scientific community take the time and effort to explain the newest science behind the theory to the public. Although evolution is one of the theories we know and understand quite well, it’s also one of the most heavily corrupted by poor education and misleading slang.

Before we continue, let’s establish something important. Evolution is science and creationism and ID are not. If you have the necessary equipment you can prove that a change in gene X of an organism’s DNA can create a feature seen in another species. No amount of tools will let you see a designer working on a blueprint of a new living thing. And of course, the said designer is always singular as the biggest backers of the modern creationist movement are evangelical Christians who see evolution as evil, a sort of gateway drug into atheism. In their minds, kids will listen to teachers talking about evolution and next thing you know, they’re forgetting God and praying to St. Darwin or something.

Like all complex theories, evolution takes some time and effort to explain properly. But when it comes to most people’s first exposure to the topic, in schools, what they’re taught is a vague shell of what they need to know. Most biology curriculums on the subject are in dire need of an update. Why are they so behind? Lack of money is a major problem and the fact that about 68% of science teachers don’t hold a degree in a relevant field can’t be helping either. There’s also an immense amount of pressure from religious figures and school board officials who either don’t understand the subject themselves or don’t want to fight with angry creationists not to jeopardize their reelection chances.

When you combine a lack of money, teachers who are not experts on the subjects they teach and people who have been brought up with only a vague understanding of the theory and in their ignorance of the topic have turned to creationism at the top, very little good or accurate information is being filtered down into science classes. Kids are still being taught that evolution is about “adaptations” and “responding to the environment” or “making ever more complex organisms.” All of these vague, off the mark concepts are confusing, poorly explained and help give rise to volumes of pseudoscientific ruminations by creationist authors.

The first introduction to evolution should sound like so: evolution is a process by which life on Earth changes over very long periods of time. It doesn’t adapt, it doesn’t advance, all of those things are side effects of evolutionary change. From that point on, we should be discussing what genes are, how they’re put together, how they change and genetic toolkits. Finally, we’ll need to make sure that we make it crystal clear that animals are picked off at random by major natural events, disease and predation and that natural selection is more like a lottery in which the young, the weak and the sick have worse chances than others. You never know who will survive, you’ll just know why if they do.

Popular science magazines, TV shows and documentaries are doing a good job of helping to dispel the ignorance of what the modern theory of evolution is really all about. But the most important place to update lessons plans and teach better science is the classroom and the classroom is getting woefully neglected.

# education // evolution / school board / science education

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