our broken evolution curriculum

If we want more people to understand how evolution works and why it's such an important concept, we need to improve how we teach them about it.

When I was studying biology as a freshman in high school, there was a test on human evolution. The last question was designed to test our understanding of how evolution really worked and almost all of us got it wrong. We were asked if the changes that gave rise to modern humans were localized or global. After grading and handing back our tests, the teacher was surprised so many of us answered that the changes were global. It’s not like we have evidence for early hominids anywhere other than Africa. So why would we think it was global? If all the available evidence points to one place, how can we say it was worldwide?

But despite being told to follow the evidence, we were still taught that animals adapted to their environments. Even though that’s not how evolution works, we were taught its mechanisms in the language which implied progression and design. An animal that started eating something different than any of its ancestors was said to have changed to exploit a new food source. Now, I know that’s the reverse of what really happens. The animal found a new food source because it mutated into something new and it was the food that was the adaptation, not the animal itself. But back in freshman biology, we didn’t know any better. None of us asked about the evidence of how exactly animals could adapt on cue. As you can see by our test results, we were still not quite sure what evolution was and how it actually worked.

Students who want to ask that question are very unlikely to get a definitive answer from any of their science teachers. According to most estimates, nearly 7 out of 10 science teachers don’t have any credentials in a relevant discipline. They go by often outdated textbooks and antique course plans made by bureaucrats who’s specialty is politics that uses school funding and the students who attend the schools under their authority as pawns in their intricate games. More often than not, school boards are becoming tools of indoctrination for the personal ideologies of people with an agenda, people who seek to educate by popular consensus, rather than facts to fulfill their self-serving goals. Pupils are left confused, conflicted and unable to rely on their teachers to give them straight answers. They’re being taught simplistic, incorrect ideas about evolution with misleading and scientifically inaccurate language.

While many creationists are that way by indoctrination from birth, many more join their ranks because they’re being taught the wrong things in the wrong ways. Scientists who say that while kids are in school, they should be taught evolution without interference and creationism in all its incarnations can be discussed in college or grad school, are missing the point. You can’t tell teenagers one thing, then after they graduate and go to college, tell them something else. If the scientists really want to make sure evolution is being taught in schools, they need to confirm if it’s being taught the right way. Telling a thirteen year old that evolution designed an animal for something or that evolution exploited this or that, or that an animal evolved to do something is a recipe for an educational disaster. And that disaster is happening every day in classrooms all over the nation, undermining the quality of science education.

As long as evolution is taught backwards, using poorly written books and inaccurate language, we’re sabotaging science education. It’s not enough to protest school board decisions that try to inject pseudo-science and religious canon into public schooling. It’s important, but it’s just half the job. The other half is to fix our broken evolution curricula.

# education // evolution / school board / schools / science education

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