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Florida Educators Share Attitudes on Teaching Evolution

A survey of Florida teachers finds that about three in four say they are comfortable with the inclusion of evolution in the state's recently revised science standards. Almost as many say they have never been criticized by fellow teachers or administrators for how they teach evolution in their classrooms.

The results were described in an article published in the February issue of The American Biology Teacher. The data were based on a survey of 353 Florida educators, including elementary teachers and secondary science teachers. The study cautions that the data are based on voluntary participation, "which increases the possibility of bias in the results." Based on where the teachers were drawn from—one source was a National Science Teachers Association listserv—those surveyed "are more likely to accept evolution," the study says.

The article, "Florida Teachers' Attitudes About Teaching Evolution," was coauthored by Samantha R. Fowler, an assistant professor of biology at Clayton State University in Morrow, Ga., and Gerry G. Meisels, the director of the Coalition for Science Literacy, based at the University of South Florida.

It comes as Florida in 2008, for the first time, explicitly referred to "evolution," and more specifically the "scientific theory of evolution," in its science standards. Another development that helped inspire the new study was the introduction since then of legislation, titled the "Academic Freedom Act." No such measure has become law to date in Florida, but the study says the bills introduced aimed to open "the door to teaching creationist beliefs as an alternative to the theory of evolution in Florida's science classrooms." The study says proponents of the legislation claim that teachers are chastised and punished for their religious beliefs, but that there are very few data to support or deny such claims.

An analysis of open-ended comments recorded in the survey indicates that "disparaging comments" made by co-workers were "equally distributed among those with pro-evolution sentiments and those without such sentiments."

The study gives some examples:

• "I have been left videotapes anonymously in my school mailbox that promote creationism and denounce evolution," one teacher reported.

• "A colleague who was outspoken in his born-again beliefs harassed my AP bio students when we were studying evolution," another said. "He refused to talk to me."

• On the flip side, another teacher reported: "Statements commonly made by fellow teachers [include]: 'Any teacher who does not agree with evolution is just plain ignorant. ... We don't need ignorant religious freaks teaching in the public school system.' "

For further discussion, check out this blog item from Florida Citizens for Science.

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