The majority of public school biology teachers across the country shy away from teaching evolution, keeping instruction to a few short hours, a study has shown.
Research from two Penn State professors reveals American students may be lagging behind in their knowledge of evolution because teachers are unprepared or unwilling to teach it. Some teachers advocate creationism, while others are afraid to address the topic for fear of controversy.
The findings come at a time when reports that less than half of American students are proficient in science has focused a national spotlight on the inadequacies of science education in the nation's public schools.
In their new book, "Evolution, Creationism and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms," Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer explore the ongoing conflict between religious and scientific teachings.
The pair analyzed data from a survey of biology teachers across the country.
According to Msnbc.com:
The data was collected from 926 nationally representative participants in the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, which polled them on what they taught in the classroom and how much time they spent on each subject. They also noted the teachers' personal feelings on creationism and evolution.
On the surveys, many teachers indicated that they steer clear of discussing human evolution completely, while the majority only dedicated a small amount of class time to the subject.
The report states:
Seventeen percent of teachers surveyed did not cover human evolution at all in their biology class, whereas a majority of teachers (60%) spent between 1 and 5 hours of class time on it.
Many teachers among the 60 percent that kept evolution instruction brief explained that they wanted to avoid confrontation with students and parents who believe in creationism. In many cases, their own evolution knowledge was also limited.
At the opposite extreme, 13 percent of teachers explicitly endorse creationism or intelligent design, and spend at least on hour of class time presenting it in a positive light. An additional 5 percent reported that they support creationism in passing or when answering students' questions.
The remaining fraction of teachers, who Berkman and Plutzer dub the "cautious 60 percent," avoids choosing sides. Often these teachers have not taken courses in evolutionary biology and lack confidence in their ability to answer questions from skeptical or hostile students and parents.