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Creationism ‘alive and well’ in Minnesota biology classes

Monday’s New York Times carried a story about the number of high-school biology teachers who teach creationism.

Monday’s New York Times carried a story about the number of high-school biology teachers who teach creationism. Apparently, just 28 percent consistently teach evolution, according to a new report.

Shocking though that figure was, it didn’t stun me nearly as much as the quote a little ways into the story from University of Minnesota biology professor Randy Moore, who among other things asserted that at least 25 percent of Minnesota high-school teachers teach creationism.

“These kinds of data have been reported regionally, and in some cases nationally, for decades. Creationists are in the classroom, and it’s not just the South,” Moore told the Times.

Multiple Minnesota surveys
Curious, I tracked the good professor down. Turns out he and a colleague at the U of M have conducted multiple surveys of both high-school teachers throughout the state and their own students for years, each time, he said, only to confirm that Minnesota is not so exceptional.

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“The numbers we report are no different from anywhere,” he said. “Creationism is alive and well in biology classes in Minnesota.”

Moore’s surveys found 60-62 percent of teachers teach only evolution — which means two-thirds adhere to the standards. Possibly out of fear or political pressure from school board members or administrators, 10-15 percent simply teach neither. The remaining 20-25 percent explicitly teach creationism, albeit sometimes alongside evolution.

Creationism is not confined to small-town classrooms or parochial schools, according to Moore. In fact, the biology teachers least likely to teach creationism work in Catholic schools. 

‘They do it by choice’
And just to be clear, it’s not a matter of teacher training, as one of the other experts quoted by the Times suggested. “They do it by choice,” Moore added. “They’ve had evolution classes, they choose to reject it in favor of religion.”

If a fourth of our kids are being taught this, why isn’t it common knowledge? Because the creation story being told is the Christian one that’s prevalent in this country, Moore suggested, so lots of kids barely notice and lots of parents aren’t offended. Every civilization has a creation story, he hastened to add, and you can bet if kids came home talking about an unfamiliar one parents would sit up and take notice.

In the process of tracking down Moore, I tumbled onto the website of Minnesota Citizens for Science Education, of which he is a member. The group has posted an entertaining FAQ, a history of the issue in Minnesota and a compilation of relevant court rulings penned by Moore himself.

A few highlights:

Minnesota’s standards for science education require students to “understand the nature of scientific ways of thinking and that scientific knowledge changes and accumulates over time.”

‘The student will be able to explain …’
To that end, the rules state, “The student will be able to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including but not limited to cell theory, atomic theory, theory of evolution, plate tectonic theory, germ theory of disease and big bang theory.”

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And no, Intelligent Design does not qualify as a scientific theory. Nor do teachers have a First Amendment right to teach creationism in a public school. Schools can — and indeed must — direct teachers to “refrain from expressions of religious viewpoints in the classroom and like settings.”

Surf for yourself, but be forewarned: There’s about a week’s worth of fascinating background to be found there.