What if Your Kid's Teacher Is Creationist?

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Teaching high school biology can be tricky business in America, where 66 percent say that creationism is definitely or probably true and 53 percent say evolution is definitely or probably true (no, we don't understand the overlap either). So what if you belong to the evolution camp, and want your children to learn Darwin's theories, but the local high school biology teacher belongs to the creationism camp? Biological anthropologist Greg Laden has been addressing this question in an ongoing series on his blog, offering advice and discussing the implications.

Laden arrives at the topic after writing advice to high school science teachers who are having class disrupted by a creationist student who rejects the biology curricula. "When Pastor Bob arms your student with creationist claims and sends him or her into your classroom, he is creating not just a disruption or an annoyance, but a professionally dangerous situation for you," Laden writes, advising teachers to tread carefully so as to avoid a lawsuit or giving creationists an excuse to demand you "teach the controversy." The first bit of advice: "You can't talk about religion in your science classroom."

But what about when the roles are reversed and the one advocating creationism in the classroom is the teacher? Laden cites parenting blogger Dale McGowan, who responded to a creationist science teacher by writing a pointed letter asking for more conventional lectures. Laden sighs, "You can't win that kind of discussion." The teacher can "nitpick" their way out of it by insisting the student misunderstood or by saying they are simply explaining the controversy. Laden insists you get more aggressive, calling for "A decisive take-down of a creationist teacher who is in violation of the law."

The teacher is doing something wrong, got caught, and it is perfectly reasonable for the parent, in a more or less irate manner but hopefully reasonably professionally, approaches the school administration (having first contacted, in person, someone at the National Center for Science Education) directly and issues a firm, clear, no-nonsense complaint.

Following up, Laden writes a "template" letter for his readers to use to demand that science teachers cease teaching creationism or intelligent design. Interestingly, his letter allows for the possibility that these teachers are not themselves creationist, but merely bending to pressure from creationist groups. Here's an excerpt:

It is not uncommon for a teacher to hear from creationists that they don't like evolution, or Darwin, or that they want their religious beliefs to shape your curriculum. Those individuals, be they parents or students or someone else, are wrong, and they have no legal, ethical, or moral basis to make such an argument. Nonetheless, they can cause trouble, and that seems to be their intent on occasion. I want you to know that I am a member of the National Center for Science Education as well as our local equivalent, [Fill in the blank with name of state or local group], and if you ever have any pressure from any source to hold back on teaching excellent science, including and especially evolution, you can count on me and those organizations to lend you support in a thoughtful and professional manner.

Laden later points out, "The Institute for Creation Research moved from California to Texas a few years ago in part, it is believed, to set up a masters program for teachers in life sciences." They didn't get certification, but now they're seeking "a degree in 'Christian Apologetics' which would serve a similar purpose as the Creationist MA, and it would have a 'Creation Science' minor. This degree, they claim, is not subject to state certification because it is religious." Future creationist high school teachers of America?

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