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AAAS Denounces Anti-Evolution Laws as Hundreds of K-12 Teachers Convene for 'Front Line' Event
ST. LOUIS — The Board of Directors of the world's largest general scientific organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), today strongly denounced legislation and policies that would undermine the teaching of evolution and "deprive students of the education they need to be informed and productive citizens in an increasingly technological, global community."
Across the United States, at least 14 pending laws — including
Missouri HB 1266 — differ in language and strategy, but "all
would weaken science education," said AAAS President Gilbert
S. Omenn, professor of medicine, genetics and public health at the
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "The AAAS Board of Directors
opposes these attacks on the integrity of science and science education,"
he added. "They threaten not just the teaching of evolution,
but students' understanding of the biological, physical, and geological
Pending U.S. anti-evolution legislation currently includes: Alabama HB 016/ SB 45, Michigan HB 5251, Michigan HB 5606, Missouri HB 1266, Mississippi SB 2427, Mississippi HB 953, New York A 8036, Oklahoma SB 1959, Oklahoma HB 2107, Oklahoma HCR 1043, South Carolina S 909, Utah SB 96.
Some of these bills would seek to discredit evolution by emphasizing "flaws" in the theory of evolution, or "disagreements" within the scientific community, the AAAS Board noted. Other bills would encourage teachers and students to explore the concept of intelligent design or other non-scientific "alternatives" to evolution, or to "critically analyze" evolution and "the controversy". But, AAAS emphasized, "There is no significant controversy within the scientific community about the validity of evolution."
Moreover, "Evolution is one of the most robust and widely accepted principles of modern science," the AAAS Board concluded, reconfirming its October 18, 2002 statement, as well as the December 2005 ruling of federal District Court Judge John E. Jones III, who found that intelligent design is based on religion, not science.
Science and religion "need not be incompatible," AAAS officials emphasized. "Science and religion ask fundamentally different questions about the world. Many religious leaders have affirmed that they see no conflict between evolution and religion. We and the overwhelming majority of scientists share this view."
[Click here to see the full text of the Board’s statement.]
Evolution on the Front Line Event
The AAAS Board statement was released to help kickoff "Evolution on the Front Line," an event for K-12 teachers at the 2006 AAAS Annual Meeting in St. Louis on Sunday 19 February. The free event — open to teachers, scientists, policy-makers, students and reporters — was organized by AAAS in collaboration with more than 30 leading educational and scientific organizations. (For program details and a complete list of collaborators and other details, click here.)
"The purposes of the Evolution on the Front Line event are to give teachers a voice on the evolution issue and to advise the scientific community how best to support them," Omenn said. "We hope to learn how we can best support teachers as they endeavor to help our children understand what is and isn't science. And, we commend teachers for their efforts to safeguard the integrity of U.S. science education."
Speakers at the event, moderated by Omenn, include Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO); Jeff Corwin, host of Animal Planet's "Corwin's Quest;" Rev. George Coyne, director of The Vatican Observatory; Ms. Linda Froschauer, president-elect of the National Science Teachers Association; Dr. Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden; and an all-star scientific panel, moderated by Cornelia Dean of The New York Times.
During the event, K-12 teachers from Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas,
Arkansas and other regions are being invited to use instant "clicker-survey"
devices to identify the top four challenges that they associate with
Read All About It!
For more AAAS news from the 2006 Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Mo., click here.
The starting list of evolution-related challenges was based in part upon advance focus groups with St. Louis-area teachers and students, conducted for AAAS by the nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, Public Agenda. The clicker-survey devices will allow teachers to instantly narrow the list of 10 challenges down to four key issues, in real-time.
While AAAS officials emphasized that focus group discussions do not
constitute a scientific study, "It was interesting to note that
four recurring themes seemed to emerge during these advance discussions
with St. Louis-area teachers and students," Omenn noted.
Focus groups with St. Louis-area high-school teachers and students suggested the following four themes:
- First, St. Louis-area teachers often don't teach human evolution
because it's not assessed by statewide standardized testing. In
fact, only a few states across the country are routinely assessing
knowledge of human evolution, said Jo Ellen Roseman, director of
Project 2061, the science-literacy initiative at AAAS. "In
practical terms, this suggests to us that human evolution is largely
not being taught in many U.S. middle and high schools," Omenn
said. "We at AAAS think that's a shame, an important deficiency."
- Second, the way that teachers "frame" discussions of
evolution in order to avoid unproductive resistance in the classroom
may sound to students' ears like equivocation, advance focus groups
suggested. A teacher might say, "Remember, this is only information,
so keep an open mind." But, the student may interpret the teacher's
verbal frame to mean, "Sorry that I have to teach you this,"
or perhaps, "Remember, evolution is only a theory." Yet,
Omenn said, scientists know that "evolution is a theory in
the same sense that gravity is a theory: It is a robust organizing
principle that has been thoroughly tested and is well-supported
by a large body of evidence from many converging fields."
- The third recurring theme to emerge from the AAAS-Public Agenda
focus groups was that parochial school teachers often experience
less pressure than their public-school counterparts to insert religion
into science classrooms.
- Fourth, focus groups suggested that students may be far less concerned about evolution versus creationism and intelligent design than many of the adults around them. Students commented, for example, that evolution is "not a big controversial idea."
Eight outstanding teachers from Dover, Pa., and from Cobb County, Ga., are being recognized during the AAAS event for their courage in resisting pressure to insert non-scientific concepts into their science classrooms.
The event is sponsored by the William T. Golden Endowment Fund for Program Innovation at AAAS, with additional generous support from the Geological Survey of America.
"Religious beliefs and scientific pursuits can readily co-exist — just not in science classrooms, lest we confuse our children about what is and isn't science," Omenn noted.
"The scientific community stands beside teachers as they work to provide students with an appropriate grounding in science and mathematics and a fundamental understanding of the nature of science."
19 February 2006