Teaching evolution

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I have enormous respect for high school biology teachers, especially those like David Campbell who teach evolution in communities where many parents (and even some biology teachers) are hostile to it. Campbell was part of the committee that drafted Florida's new science standards, standards that require evolution to be taught.

Today's New York Times has an article describing the challenges Campbell faces teaching evolution in Orange Park, Florida. You should read the whole thing. It shows how Campbell achieved a small victory by being firm on what science tells us about the natural world, while being sensitive to the religious beliefs many of his students bring to class.1

In his first exam on evolution, Campbell asked students to provide two pieces of evidence for evolution and natural selection. One of his student, Bryce Haas, refused to answer. Bryce plays football and regularly attends prayer meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes that are held at 6:00am in the school gymnasium.

Faced with a challenge like that, I probably would have given up.2 But David Campbel isn't me. He's a much better teacher. He pressed on through a difficult, challenging lecture in which he presented some of the evidence that humans and apes share a common ancestor.

When the bell rang, he knew that he had not convinced Bryce, and perhaps many of the others. But that week, he gave the students an opportunity to answer the questions they had missed on the last test. Grading Bryce's paper later in the quiet of his empty classroom, he saw that this time, the question that asked for evidence of evolutionary change had been answered.

1Dare I say that Campbell "framed" his lessons in terms that made it more likely his students would hear and accept what he had to say?
2That's why I have such enormous respect for high school biology teachers like David Campbell. They have reserves of dedication and creativity far greater than mine. They are the real heroes of science education, and they deserve a lot more recognition for the work they do.

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