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Evolution Event at 2006 Annual Meeting Will Rally Support for U.S. Teachers
The campaign against the teaching of evolution has put many public school science teachers in a difficult position: They want to teach science and preserve the integrity of science, but they sometimes risk objections and protests from students, parents or school board members.
In collaboration with the National Academy of Sciences and many other leading U.S. scientific associations, AAAS is organizing a half-day special event at its upcoming Annual Meeting in St. Louis to give science teachers a voice on the issue and to give them aid in their schools and communities.
“Evolution on the Front Line,” set for Sunday afternoon 19 February, will feature talks by the Rev. George Coyne, a Jesuit priest and director of the Vatican Observatory; U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan of Missouri; Linda Froschauer, president-elect of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA); and Emmy Award-winner Jeff Corwin, a wildlife biologist and host of “The Jeff Corwin Experience” on the Animal Planet cable television station. Teachers have been invited to talk about the pressures they face and the support they would like to receive from the U.S. science and technology community.
“K-12 teachers are the front line of efforts to preserve the integrity of science and evidence-based understanding of the physical and biological world. They are its unsung heroes,” said AAAS President Gilbert S. Omenn. “We and they recognize how important math and science at all levels are to preparing our students for a knowledge-based, globally-competitive economic future. We also respect the importance of religion and spirituality—in the home and places of worship. Many teachers have told us that they would welcome help. We want to hear about their successes and stresses, share ideas and offer them all the support we can.”
The battle over evolution and the integrity of science has flared recently in at least 33 states, according to the National Center for Science Education, with Pennsylvania, Kansas and Georgia most prominent among them. A 2005 NSTA survey indicated that nearly a third of teachers feel pressured to include creationism, intelligent design or other nonscientific evolution alternatives in their science classrooms; a similar number reported pressure to de-emphasize or omit evolution.
Ray Cummings, who taught biology for 11 years in St. Louis public high schools before going on leave last year, said the pressure against evolution has become more acute in recent years, making teachers’ jobs more difficult. Since students often come to class with a strong faith-based explanation for life’s origins and development, the art of a teachers’ work is in respecting students’ beliefs while teaching them science and the scientific method.
“I’m a person of faith, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve abandoned my faith because I can explain and accept the science of evolution,” said Cummings, currently vice president for political education with St. Louis Teachers & School Related Personnel Union Local 420.
The AAAS Annual Meeting — the biggest general science meeting in the world — will bring thousands of scientists, educators, journalists and others to St. Louis from 16 to 20 February. The Sunday evolution forum is considered especially important in light of events in neighboring Kansas and other heartland areas.
Carnahan is slated to give the keynote address. Froschauer, an eighth-grade teacher from Westport, Conn., will speak on the scope of the challenge facing public school teachers and administrators. New York Times science writer Cornelia Dean will moderate a panel of scientists who will explore teachers’ questions on evolution facts and fiction. Omenn, professor of medicine, genetics and public health at the University of Michigan, will moderate the event. Corwin is slated to give the capstone address.
The evolution session will be tailored especially for St. Louis-area teachers, but is expected to attract educators from around the country. For example, the Geological Society of America (GSA) is underwriting travel expenses to St. Louis for science teachers from Dover, Pa., Cobb County, Ga., and other hot spots.
“Members of the Geological Society of America understand very well the critical importance of teaching evolution and maintaining the integrity of the definition of science,” said GSA Executive Director John W. Hess. “As a scientific society that includes K-12 teacher members, we are committed to supporting efforts that encourage the very best in science education.”
The evolution event is free and open to AAAS Annual Meeting registrants and invited guests only, including teachers, scientists, policy-makers and members of all collaborating organizations, including the National Science Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers, St. Louis. (For a complete list of collaborating groups, click here.) A personal invitation, AAAS Annual Meeting registration or advance registration to this event, with appropriate identification, will be required at the door.
[To see a full collection of AAAS resources on preserving the
integrity of evolution science in public schools, see “Evolution
on the Front Line.”]
Edward W. Lempinen
6 January 2006