Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

IS EVOLUTION MISSING LINK IN SOME HIGH SCHOOLS? SOME 20 [Corrected 05/02/13] ; OF SCIENCE TEACHERS IN SURVEY SAY THEY BELIEVE IN CREATIONISM

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

IS EVOLUTION MISSING LINK IN SOME HIGH SCHOOLS? SOME 20 [Corrected 05/02/13] ; OF SCIENCE TEACHERS IN SURVEY SAY THEY BELIEVE IN CREATIONISM

Article excerpt

During an Advanced Placement biology course in Easton Area High School, Jennifer Estevez's teacher sped through the large chapter on evolution, focusing on one formula for the AP exam and the basics: survival of the fittest and natural selection.

In those high school years in Northampton County, she also would attend a Baptist leadership retreat where a speaker denounced evolution as false, unproven science.

Seemingly unimportant and even discredited, evolution fell off her radar. So the Easton student, who is a Baptist, arrived at Duquesne University last fall considering herself a creationist, a person who generally believes God created the world as described in the Bible.

But a college biology course convinced her that evolution was valid science with overwhelming evidence that all living things, including humans, evolved most likely from a common ancestor -- over a period of millions, even billions, of years longer than that described in Genesis.

Ending her freshman year, and in pursuit of a career in medicine, Ms. Estevez, 19, said she's "a bit upset" that her high school teacher played down evolution while others trashed the science that serves as the foundation of modern biology, genetics and medicine.

"In high school, a lot was not taught correctly, and it didn't prepare me for college," she said. "They should have gone into evolution in detail. The controversy should not be what is taught in school."

Her experience represents the ill-kept secret about public school biology classrooms nationwide -- that evolution often isn't taught robustly, if at all. Faith-based belief in creationism and intelligent design continues to be discussed and even openly taught in public school classrooms, despite state curriculum standards.

"Sometimes students honestly look me in the eye and ask what do I think? I tell them that I personally hold the Bible as the source of truth," said Joe Sohmer, who teaches chemistry at the Altoona Area High School. The topic arises, he said, when he teaches radiocarbon dating, with that method often concluding archeological finds to be older than 10,000 years, which he says is the Bible-based age of Earth. "I tell them that I don't think [radiocarbon dating] is as valid as the textbook says it is, noting other scientific problems with the dating method.

"Kids ask all kinds of personal questions and that's one I don't shy away from," he said. "It doesn't in any way disrupt the educational process. I'm entitled to my beliefs as much as the evolutionist is."

Mr. Sohmer responded to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette questionnaire distributed this spring to school teachers statewide, and he agreed to discuss his teaching philosophy. He said school officials are comfortable with his methods.

An Indiana County science teacher responded to the questionnaire more adamantly.

"Most parents and officials do not want evolution 'crammed' into their children. They have serious philosophical/religious issues with public schools dictating to their students how to interpret the origin of life," stated the teacher, who did not respond to a request for an interview. His questionnaire says he teaches creationism for the equivalent of a class period, with five classes devoted to evolution.

"I have been questioned in the past about how I teach evolution principles, and [school officials] are satisfied with my approach," he said. "My approach is to teach the textbook content of Darwinian evolution but modified to explain that data can be interpreted differently dependent upon one's world view."

Yet another teacher accused the Post-Gazette of conducting a witch hunt to identify and punish teachers who believe in creationism.

Skirting the law

The U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts have ruled time and again that teaching creationism in public schools violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, which often is referred to as separation of church and state: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. …

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