Some teachers were at a workshop in Atlanta to talk about their experiences teaching evolution, and how to overcome some of the problems. They’ve had it worse than I have.
Some students burst into tears when a high school biology told them they’d be studying evolution. Another teacher said some students repeatedly screamed “no” when he began talking about it.
Other teachers said students demanded to know whether they pray and questioned why the had to learn about evolution if it was just a theory.
I get remarks on my student evaluations (last year, a group of students must have collaborated, because there were a half dozen evaluations that said exactly the same thing: “This class taught me to love Jesus even more!”, which they may have thought would hurt my feelings, but I just laughed.) I’ve had some students who talked to my colleagues about this evolution stuff — they were apparently afraid to confront me. I do get some forthright creationists, but they don’t respond with tears…they try to argue with me, which is just fine. But otherwise, the only screams I get are when I return exams.
The solutions are a little vaguely stated, but OK — they are actively responding to the problem.
A few years ago, Pratt started holding meetings – open to parents, students, church members and others – to address their questions about evolution. She holds the annual session a few weeks before she begins the unit and gets about 200 people.
“It used to be that the whole unit was a struggle, and we were butting heads,” Pratt said. “This meeting helps everyone understand that science teachers are not the enemy. Now, the kids are showing up ready to learn about evolution.”
Other teachers said they try to fix students’ misconceptions. They explain how humans and apes share a common ancestor that no longer exists, not that humans and apes evolved from one another. They say that while “theory” may describe a hunch in everyday language, in science it is defined as an explanation supported by factual evidence to describe events that occur in our world.
Graham Balch, a biology teacher at Grady High in Atlanta, addressed the controversy head-on. He had his students read about Cox’s actions and the response she got. They learned about efforts across the country to water down lessons about evolution and how other public and private schools teach the material. They debated the cause of the conflict and whether evolution should be taught in public schools.
As for myself, the way I handle it is not to push atheism in the classroom (you’re shocked, I know), since that would lead into arguments that aren’t part of the subject matter of the course. What I do instead is teach a historical approach to the issue of evolution, showing that there really wasn’t an Evil Atheist Conspiracy at work, but simply scientists who were making honest evaluations of the evidence: 19th century geology was driven by profits to be made from coal and railroads and canals, not ideology, and Darwin arrived at his conclusions in spite of his upbringing in a faith. And once you’ve gone through the evidence, it becomes really easy to spend a lecture or two ripping up creationists, because the students can easily see how creationists are not operating in good faith and are in denial of the facts of geology and biology.
Some still argue with me now and then, but usually my problem is keeping the other students in the class from brutalizing the poor credulous sap’s arguments too cruelly.