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Apr 18 2009

A BS in Biology without Evolution

If you are at least vaguely aware of the Evolution/Creationism debate, you know there’s a lot of things wrong with biology education in the United States. You have rallying cries to “teach the controversy” (which doesn’t exist), but thankfully those are being shot down more and more often. There are some students who will never even hear the word “evolution” throughout high school. I know in my high school freshman biology class, which every student had to take, we never mentioned the topic. Once I got to AP Bio my senior year, we covered it well, but that’s only 50 students out of a school of 1400 – and those are the ones who are actually interested in biology, so they have a better chance of accepting evolution anyway! Why aren’t we teaching it when we have the chance to reach everyone?

Well, even when dealing with Biology majors in college, we fail at that.

Now, I’m sure some universities do a great job at teaching evolution to their Bio majors. Obviously since I’ve only attended Purdue, that’s the one example I have – but I’m sure their craptacular methods apply to other universities. It’s especially disappointing since Purdue likes to tout itself as this big Engineering/Science Research I University, yet it can’t even convince all of its Bio majors to accept evolution, not to mention other science programs here.

What’s the problem? The only time evolution is taught in a class required by all Bio sub disciplines is BIOL 121. That’s the introductory class you take the fall of your freshman year, and a whooping four class periods (that’s less than 3.5 hours) are devoted to evolution. While it’s explained well, it’s still so cursory that I knew more about evolution just because I was a nerd and perused Talk Origins in high school.

Other required biology classes will briefly mention evolution, but not in a way that teaches it to a class. You can see some students rolling their eyes when a professor says something like “You can see how this could have evolved.” I’ve had multiple students – some in the very top of the program – tell me that biology courses at Purdue have actually strengthened their faith in God and creationism. They claim that learning all the complexities of biology prove God had to have a hand in it (and then my brain subsequently explodes after hearing “Irreducibly Complex” for the bajillionth time).

Most of the Bio majors allow you to choose the official Evolution class (BIOL 580) as an elective, but that’s only one of your choices out of maybe 20 to 30. And if you don’t accept evolution, how likely are you to take a graduate level class about it? I think the scariest realization pops up when you look at two Bio majors in particular:

Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology:
You think this would be evolution-crazy since, you know, it’s the Evolution degree, right? Well, not so much. You’re required to take 580-Evolution, but that’s all. The only two other evolution related classes are Evolution of Behavior and Sex & Evolution, but you can pick your classes such that you don’t have to take those. They’re just suggestions. They don’t even include any of the human evolution courses offered through anthropology as options for your degree…and past that, I don’t think there are really any other evolution courses at Purdue. I don’t know about you, but it’s a little unnerving that someone can get a degree with “Evolution” in the title after only taking one class.

Biology Education:
This, however, is the scariest of the two. You’d think with all our educational woes we’d desperately try to train a new generation of Biology educators who could properly teach evolution. Well, we don’t. Evolution is one of 47 electives a Bio Ed major can choose, and even though there’s an Education course specifically about teaching Evolution, they’re not required to take it. It’s not even listed as a biology elective – it would just be a general elective if you had any free time (haha, free time! What a ridiculous idea). I would think this is pretty damn important for a future biology teacher to know.

I guess this explains how you can still get rogue creationist teachers who feel that it’s their duty to sabotage teaching evolution with their own beliefs, even when the curriculum is pro-evolution. You can graduate from many places with a degree in Biology and still not even have an elementary grasp of evolution. This is a Serious Problem. All the biologists and scientists who lament about our country’s rejection of evolution need to put the education of Average Joe on hold for a bit and start worrying about students. Professors especially need to speak up. Now, they’re not the blame – the professors who do teach evolution do a great job, and curricula are riddled with bureaucratic bullshit. But they’re our best hope for having some say in the matter. So to any biology professors out there, please fight to ensure all biology majors take at least one comprehensive course in evolution. Even if most of them are bound for med school, we can’t hope to educate the public until we educate our own kind first.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    Lauren

    That’s really, really interesting. I would’ve thought that someone would have been paying attention enough when the requirements lists were drawn up. It’s actually a little scary.

    I would think that, since evolution is the thing that makes biology make sense*, there have at least got to be lots of references to it in the other classes, right?

    *Caveat: I am not a biology major, but this statement makes much sense to me.

  2. 2
    Lauren

    That’s really, really interesting. I would’ve thought that someone would have been paying attention enough when the requirements lists were drawn up. It’s actually a little scary. I would think that, since evolution is the thing that makes biology make sense*, there have at least got to be lots of references to it in the other classes, right? *Caveat: I am not a biology major, but this statement makes much sense to me.

  3. 3
    Jen

    Evolution is definitely referenced in many classes, but it’s with the assumption that you already understand it. Which…many biology majors do not.

  4. 4
    Jen

    Evolution is definitely referenced in many classes, but it’s with the assumption that you already understand it. Which…many biology majors do not.

  5. 5
    Anonymous

    Teaching Biology without Evolution is the same as teaching Chemistry without the Period Chart and Physics without Math.Charles L. Short

  6. 6
    Anonymous

    Teaching Biology without Evolution is the same as teaching Chemistry without the Period Chart and Physics without Math.Charles L. Short

  7. 7
    Mobile

    Academics is the UK’s fastest growing teacher recruitment agency, specialising in long-term and permanent placements for qualified teaching staff, middle and senior leadership professionals and non-teaching staff.

    Regards.http://www.academicsltd.co.uk

  8. 8
    Mobile

    Academics is the UK’s fastest growing teacher recruitment agency, specialising in long-term and permanent placements for qualified teaching staff, middle and senior leadership professionals and non-teaching staff.Regards.http://www.academicsltd.co.uk

  9. 9
    Hanna

    Ok I know that I’m awfully late to comment, but when I read this I actually realised that I couldn’t remember being introduced to evolution as part of biology class in junior high/middle school (no required biology in high school), although I’m from secular Sweden. But that’s pretty much due to the fact that we study it as part of history in 1st grade. Yup, FIRST grade, seven years old. Of course, we didn’t do anything advanced, but at least for me the first day of history class pretty much started with “the earth was created 4,5 billion years ago”. Also remember going to Swedens most awesome Natural historic museum, learning about dinos and how life was formed. And in music class we sang a really sad song about a trilobite playing hide and seek with his friends, until he got lost, was unable to find them, and turned into stone… So much fun! Of course we did study evolution and genetics later on as well, but the notion that some should be introduced to this idea as late as junior high or even high school just seams really absurd.

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