NY Times on the Challenge of Teaching Evolution in Florida
Teaching evolution to a bunch of graduate students is easy; conveying something about evolution to a diverse group of high school students, some of whom have been coached to be openly hostile towards the subject, is a major challenge. Sunday's NY Times covered the efforts of one skilled Florida high school teacher. If only we had more teachers like this one. The teacher explained that science deals with ideas about the natural world that are testable by observation - unlike say, miracles. One student objected: God can be proven, he insisted. We have fragments of Noah's ark from Mt. Ararat to prove it. What do you say to that? My response would not have been charitable, which is why I'm not a high school teacher. This teacher's response was brilliant. He asked the student, if it could be shown that these so-called fragments of Noah's ark were only 500 years old, or from a tree from a wrong part of the world - in other words, that these fragments could not have been from Noah's ark - would you question your faith? The student's answer was of course no - he wouldn't change his mind about God if the piece from Noah's ark turned out to be a fake. The teacher's answer helped draw a line between science and religion, at least for the purposes of the class, and he was able to move on and start teaching. Biology teachers have some unique challenges to face before they can even get to the details of their subject. They face resistance, a bias against the subject that physics or chemistry teachers generally don't face. A good biology teacher has to not only let the students have engaging, hands-on experience with the relevant scientific evidence; he or she needs to be able to diffuse charged religious questions that could quickly lead into thorny philosophical topics beyond the scope of a high school class. Being a good biology teacher is hard.