A very interesting study summarized Science aims to understand why biology teachers in the U.S. are so hesitant to teach evolution. Turns out a lot of it comes down to the fact that they themselves are relatively ignorant and uncomfortable with the subject, likely because the subject was avoided during their own training. It seems as though this is essentially a “catch 22” spiral where teachers don’t want to teach the subject, because they do not have a good enough understanding of it. As a result, the next generation is also ill-informed, and so on so forth.
This result from a group out of Penn State has recently come out in the The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (along with this previous post) where the entire issue focuses on understanding why society disregards science sometimes.
In their earlier study, in 2007, Berkman and Plutzer surveyed a national sample of 926 high school biology teachers to better understand teachers’ role in the country’s long-running battle over evolution. They found that 13% were openly sympathetic to creationism, while 28% provided students with a thorough understanding of evolution. The rest, which the researchers label “the cautious 60%,” spent as little time as possible teaching this most fundamental concept in modern biology.
“Where is this wishy-washiness coming from?” Berkman says they asked. Everything pointed to the teachers themselves,” he says, and “we realized we didn’t know much about them.”
Their new study suggests teachers avoid the controversial topic, and it offers a reason: Teachers lack the necessary knowledge, conviction, and role models to teach evolution properly. “Not feeling confident about your knowledge of evolution,” Berkman says, “leads to being less likely to teach it.”