Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

The Identification, Assessment, and Amelioration of Barriers to America's Acceptance of Evolutionary Theory

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

The Identification, Assessment, and Amelioration of Barriers to America's Acceptance of Evolutionary Theory

Article excerpt

Abstract

The scientific community is in near universal agreement as to the importance of an understanding of evolutionary principles as the unifying theme for the appropriation of the origin, history, and diversity of life on our planet. Yet despite this agreement evidence from myriad sources indicate that most Americans reject this grand-unifying theory of the life sciences. Although the reasons for this rejection are both numerous and complex they are undoubtedly related to American pedagogical failures and the persistence of alternative views based on faith. It appears misconceptions of evolutionary theory can be divided into two major categories: 1) epistemological misconceptions--those dealing with the nature of scientific inquiry; and 2) content misconceptions--those dealing with the process and mechanisms of evolution itself. An understanding of the Conceptual Change Model, indicating that in order for misconceptions to be abandoned they must first be deemed unsatisfactory to the learner, while new conceptions must be intelligible, plausible, and fruitful, may be useful in our efforts to promote a better acceptance of evolutionary theory. We must further recognize that "concepts" and "beliefs" have both force and scope and that science and religion are worldviews steeped in the viscous broth of these two elements.

Introduction

Publications by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science (National Science Standards 1996B) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy 1993) have placed the highest priority on teaching science as both a mode of inquiry and with central overarching unifying themes. AAAS (1993) refers to these themes as "ideas that transcend disciplinary boundaries and prove fruitful in explanation, in theory, in observation, and in design" (p. 261). Both of these documents, as well as the vast majority of scientists and science educators, seem in virtual agreement as to the importance of an understanding of evolutionary principles as the unifying theme for the appropriation of the origin, history, and diversity of life on earth as a scientific concept. At least thirty-two scientific organizations have gone so far as to publish specific statements advocating the use of evolutionary theory in science classrooms as a "mega theme" upon which an understanding of the life sciences must hang (Matsumara 1995). The AAAS Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy (1993) states that "the educational goal should be for all children is to understand the concept of evolution ... the evidence and arguments that support it, and its importance to biology" (p. 254), while the National Research Council's National Science Standards (1996) state that "biological evolution cannot be eliminated from the life science standards" (p. 112). The Society of the Study of Evolution has joined seven other scientific organizations in issuing a white paper on the importance of teaching evolution (D'Avanzo & McNeal 1996). Recently the Royal Society of London (2006) issued a statement that "evolution is recognized as the best explanation for the development of life on Earth" and it is "rightly taught as an essential part of biology and science courses in schools, colleges, and universities across the world." No fewer than forty three organizations of science educators agree with these statements as illustrated by the National Science Teachers Association, National Association of Biology Teachers, and the Society for College Science Teachers repeatedly publishing articles in their respective journals calling for evolution and the nature of scientific inquiry to be the core of life science education. The NABT's position states that "Teaching biology in an effective and scientifically-honest manner requires classroom discussions and laboratory experiences on evolution (National Association of Biology Teachers 1996, p. 98, emphasis mine). The NSTA's position statement on The Teaching of Evolution states that the organization "supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept of science and should be included as part of K-college science frameworks and curricula" (Journal of College Science Teaching 1997, p. …

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