Thursday, October 2, 2008

Teachers in the Trenches

In light of Dr. Eugenie Scott’s presentation on Evolution vs. Creationism on Monday, the origins debate has been on my mind. I came across a New York Times article that addresses the ongoing controversy surrounding teaching evolution in Florida schools. Beginning this fall, public schools in Florida must comply with a new set of science standards adopted by the Board of Education in February 2008. These standards require public schools to teach evolution as “the organizing principle of life science” starting in the sixth grade, adding human evolution to the mix in the ninth grade. Various court rulings, coupled with low test scores and the desire to make students more competitive in a global economy, fueled the curriculum change.

With no guidelines per se on how to teach evolution and natural selection to their classes, and despite appreciable resistance from many students, teachers David Campbell and Kathryn Bylsma are figuring it out as they go along. Bylsma relies on hands-on research, rather than lecturing her students about evolutionary evidence, and encourages them to draw their own conclusions. Similarly, Campbell emphasizes the distinctness of science and religion, telling his students that: “Science explores nature by testing and gathering data. It can’t tell you what’s right and wrong. It doesn’t address ethics. But it is not anti-religion. Science and religion just ask different questions.” Both cases highlight the fine line teachers must walk as the scientific vanguard.

Here are links to the full article on Campbell ( and the short video, “Sifting through Faith and Science”, showing how Bylsma and her eighth grade students are grappling with the new subject matter (

Though the evidence for evolution is conclusive, different viewpoints can still be accommodated within the classroom if both students and teachers acknowledge that science and religion address different things.

Roxanne Enman

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