Study: High School Teachers Influence Students' Evolution, Creationist Views

What college students learned from their biology teachers in high school influences whether they accept evolution or creationist views, according to a recent study by professors at the University of Minnesota.

University students whose high school biology class covered creationism – in some cases alongside evolution – were more likely to accept creationist views upon entering college, the study found. Those whose high school biology teachers taught evolution but not creationism were more likely to accept evolution in college.

The study, "Rejecting Darwin: The Occurrence & Impact of Creationism in High School Biology Classrooms," is published in the May issue of BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

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Co-authors Randy Moore and Sehoya Cotner, professors at the University's College of Biological Science, surveyed 1,000 students enrolled in introductory biology classes at the University of Minnesota to examine whether biology majors were more likely than non-majors to encounter evolution and/or creationist views in their high school biology classes. They also wanted to find out how the inclusion of evolution and/or creationism in those classes affect students' views on the subject when they enter college.

Respondents were asked state their opinions on several statements dealing with evolution and creationism, including whether humans are the product of evolutionary processes that have occurred over millions of years and whether the theory of evolution cannot be correct since it disagrees with the Biblical account of creation. The statements were borrowed from an instrument called the "Measure of the Acceptance of the Theory of Evolution."

Results showed that regardless of their major, University students shared similar views on evolution and creationism.

Around two-thirds of respondents said high school biology class included evolution and not creationism while only 1 to 2 percent has classes that covered creationism and not evolution. About 6 to 13 percent said their teachers did not cover either evolution or creationism. But 29 percent of majors and 21 percent of non-majors said their high school biology class covered both evolution and creationism.

The study found that the material covered during the students' high school biology class affected their views on evolution and creationism.

For example, 72 to 78 percent of students exposed to evolution only agreed that it is scientifically valid while 57 to 59 percent of students who were exposed to creationism agreed that evolution can be validated.

"I've long known that many biology teachers teach creationism, but was surprised to learn they have such a strong impact," says Moore, professor of biology and lead author of the study.

For nearly 30 years, Moore has taught biology based on evolution as the subject's unifying theme. However, he strongly opposes the teaching of creationism in science classes, saying it goes against science and the law.

"It's unfortunate that so many teachers think their religious beliefs are science," says Moore. "Teachers who don't teach evolution deny students the understanding of one of the greatest principles in history."

Moore was a founding member of the Minnesota Citizens for Science Education, a grassroots organization that defends the teaching of evolution in local schools. Last Fall, he was named the winner of the National Association of Biology Teachers' 2008 Evolution Education Award, which was co-sponsored by AIBS.

Moore and Cotner, an associate professor of biology, have discussed their research on a radio talk show led by Minnesota Atheists.

According to a news release on the study, the authors are interested in working with high school biology teachers – and particularly with college students who plan to teach biology – to improve their understanding and teaching of evolution.

The study comes a month after the Texas Board of Education adopted new standards that require science teachers to encourage students to "critique" and examine "all sides" of scientific theories. The new science curriculum standards will take effect with the 2010-2011 school year.

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