AAAS: Teachers and Evolution on the Front Line


During the 2006 Annual meeting of the AAAS in St Louis, the “Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology” organized an event for St Louis teachers called: AAAS Evolution on the Front Line.

The resources include powerpoints of the presentations and videos which I understand will be added at a later time.

Dr. Gilbert S. Omenn, AAAS President and Professor of Medicine, Genetics and Public Health, University of Michigan presented the results from the Teacher Survey

Focus Groups – Four Recurring Themes

Teachers often don’t teach human evolution if it’s not assessed by statewide standardized testing.

When teachers verbally “frame” evolution to preempt resistance in the classroom, some students may interpret the words as equivocation.

Parochial school teachers may experience less pressure than their public-school counterparts to insert non-scientific views into science classrooms.

Students may be far less concerned about evolution versus creationism and intelligent design than many of the adults around them.

Ms. Linda K. Froschauer, President-Elect, NSTA; Middle-School Teacher and K-8 Science Department Chair, Weston Public Schools, CT presented on the Scope of the problem today

“School started this week and a lovely well-spoken .…… youngster came up to me and asked to be excused any time that I referred to evolution in class.

I explained that that might be every day;

I asked her to let her parents know.”

Science department chair Arizona

“There is an extremely vocal creationist minority in my community who call up the administration whenever I start to cover anything having to do with evolution. Their students snigger and sneer in the classroom when even a video mentions anything having to do with [evolution].”

Science teacher State unknown


Dr. George V. Coyne, Director, The Vatican Observatory presented a Video of Presentation: Is God a Scientist? A Catholic Scientist Looks at Evolution


Prof. Scott Sampson, University of Utah and Utah Museum of Natural History presented on evidence for macro-evolution

Prof. Kenneth R. Miller, Brown University presented Time to Abandon Darwin? Answering the Challenge from “design”

Prof. Robert M. Hazen, George Mason University and Carnegie Institution of Washington presented GENESIS: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origin


Thanks. Has this info been posted there?

Not sure. Check it out anyway. It’s a fun place.

Offtopic postings have been moved to the bathroom wall

Hello everyone! I attended this event and enjoyed it immensely! However, it seemed to me that the message from the teachers was that they had no idea how to actually discuss the evidence for evolution. Now that I’m posting here, I wish I had taken better notes at the event. The reason is because of the survey done of the teachers in attendance that day. The focus groups of course had generated a list of the top ten obstacles to teaching evolution. The teachers in the room voted on that list in order to figure out which issues applied specifically to them. In my rudimentary notes, I have written that the new list put the issue number seven at the top. As for how this issue was worded; it was generally that no one had explained to them how to answer objections raised by creationist students and parents. (For some reason, my goofy old computer will not open the file with the survey results) If I am wrong about this being the top concern of the teachers present at the event, I hope someone will correct my error.

So, I’m wondering how this can be! There seems to me to be plenty of readily available information that sets straight all the crazy objections to evolution! I realize that K-12 teachers are very, very busy yet it seems that anyone with any information retrieval skills could, in the course of a few evenings, get a pretty good handle on what is going on here. One area teacher asked Jeff Corwin “How are we supposed to know what to teach when there is so much creationist material out there on the internet?” Corwin told her to stick with good rigorous science, though I wish he would have mentioned peer review.

Teachers, look to the literature! It is at the library! Take the time to understand the story revealed to us by the rocks, fossils, genetics, morphology, etc…etc…!! I assure you that it will be worth the effort. On a more insidious note, I was sitting there enjoying the lecture when I noticed Johnathan Sarfati creeping around in the aisles. Then I saw David Menton and a couple other AIG guys sitting three rows in front of me. They all had their laptops open and were actively mining for quotes. I was able to delight a Canadian researcher who was sitting close to me by pointing out these maniacs to him. After the event, I gave Dave one of my paleontology tour brochures. (It’s something I do to help the people in my sorry area; I sure don’t make much money at it!) Maybe he’ll sign up for a group discount for all the groupies at AIG.

The event was great and I do hope that it helps any teacher or otherwise who was in attendance. Ken Miller was great as always and brought up the fused #2 human chromosome. Corwin is such a good guy too.…I always knew I liked him more than the crocodile tormentors on t.v.

Oh yeah, George Coyne made some really good statements about how evangelical Christian literalism is a “plague in our midst”. He said that he felt real trepidation about saying so. I can understand why this man would say so however. For it is so. Sure, they make the world a bit more interesting sometimes, but if I knew they were talking to my daughter about the organisms she loves so much; oh, it would be disturbing and vile. The last thing a good person would do is lie to a child about something they appreciate.

I sure wish the St. Louis Post-Dispatch hadn’t dispatched the kind of garbage they did this morning.

Monday’s front page:

“With the fervor of preachers and the drive of generals, scientists from across the country rallied against what they describe as religious pressure in public schools.” To me it seemed that all the speakers were calm and very sincere. I wonder if the Center for Reclaiming America gets that kind of press! By the way, this event got next to no local coverage despite it being the best thing to happen to this town in decades. I hope no-one got car-jacked while they were here! Don’t know what that is? Come to St. Louis and find out!

now if only Corwin could convince Animal Planet to televise such events as part of an educational science series, rather than the drivel they usually put on.

as to an easily accessible source for standard evolutionary info to counter standard creationist claims, uh, how bout HERE!

if PT or talk origins isn’t enough, I would recommend the UC Berkeley site here:

excellent set of educational tools found there.

just in case someone misses the obvious teacher link on the home page, go here:[…]evohome.html

for a very detailed presentation of teaching hurdles and how to overcome them for secondary school teachers.

Pattanowski Wrote:

There seems to me to be plenty of readily available information that sets straight all the crazy objections to evolution! I realize that K-12 teachers are very, very busy yet it seems that anyone with any information retrieval skills could, in the course of a few evenings, get a pretty good handle on what is going on here.

Every teacher who mentions evolution should have this web address at their fingertips:

BTW, I wonder if the Discovery Institute would condone excusing the student from class who didn’t want to hear about evolution. If so, that would be a double standard, as their official position is that students should learn evolution — along with the misrepresentations of course.

I was at this event, invited by AAAS and Geological Society to attend as a ‘Teacher on the front line’ (I’m at Kennesaw State University in Cobb County, GA). It is true that one of the top 4 problems for teachers was having responses to claims made by anti-evolution students, but just telling them to go to the literature is not quite an appropriate response. (Before I get too far, you should know that this website as well as Talk Origins and Pharyngula were all mention as good sites for good responses to anti-evolutionists) Remember school teachers don’t have the time to keep up on the literature, nor do they have time in class to respond to every anti-evolutionist claim that a student can get a hold of. Neither do they have the expertise to tease out of the scientific literature the salient points. What they really need is short, but accurate, points to address student/parent concerns without getting bogged down in a lengthy discussion. That type of information is not what is taught to them in a biology curriculum. So, they have trouble ‘framing’ the discussion and they have trouble addressing student/parent concerns when they come up. That is why we academics at the universities must work closely with these teachers to give them the strength they need (and answers) when these problems crop up (as they do repeatedly here and across the country). One last point and then I’ll stop; you have to remember that we are dealing with teachers and some of them have come through programs without even taking an evolution class. As scary as that sounds, there are biology programs that view evolution as central to everything, so don’t require an evolution class or the educational side of the program doesn’t. These people are caught drowning as soon as the discussion leaves the concrete discussions of evolution found in their text books.

And why the devil can’t administrators, Science Department chairs, Assistant Superintendents for Personnel, faculty committees, or whoever is in charge of hiring new science faculty, simply ASK if the applicant accepts that the Earth is several billion years old, that the speed of light hasn’t changed, that new species arise through natural processes, etc.?

Would it be out of line to ask a prospective geography teacher if she believes the Earth is round? To ask a history teacher if he believes that WWII actually happened? Of course not!

Then why can’t we ask science teachers if what they’re going to teach is actually SCIENCE?

Because that would be asking about their religion? B.S.! We need to know what FACTS they believe about science and the natural world, and whether or not they believe that the scientific method can generally be depended on to yield true and useful results. The source of their unscientific or anti-scientific beliefs is irrelevant. If their church makes testable claims about the natural world that have been blown out of the water by science–well, that’s the risk anyone (even scientists) takes when making testable claims about reality

To reject Ms. Grindy as a 9th grade Bio I teacher because she doesn’t believe that humans have non-human ancestors is not subjecting her to a religious test. It’s a SCIENCE test!

“And why the devil can’t administrators, Science Department chairs, Assistant Superintendents for Personnel, faculty committees, or whoever is in charge of hiring new science faculty, simply ASK if the applicant accepts that the Earth is several billion years old, that the speed of light hasn’t changed, that new species arise through natural processes, etc.”

Some folks in charge of hiring new science teachers WANT ID/creationism taught in science class.


you did see the link i posted to the educational materials for teachers on the berkeley site, yes?

just to be clear…

it takes all of 30 minutes to go through all of that material. it is quite relevant to addressing students and parents’ creationist claims.

it is readily printable.

no excuses, really.

Corwin didn’t know how to answer the teacher’s question about how to answer students or parents who want her to teach creationism, but Ken and I did! (I was left off the list of participants Paul posted above, but I was part of the panel with Hazen, Sampson, and Miller ;>) )

My practical advice was to “kick the question upstairs” to the scientific community – to tell the parent/student that the job of the teacher is to teach the consensus view of biology, and that creation science/ID is not part of that consensus. If it ever becomes part of the consensus, it will “trickle down” to high school, but it hasn’t yet, so she (the teacher) is not going to teach it. This tends to defuse the issue and more importantly, take it from being a decision the teacher makes to being one that science as a whole makes: a non-confrontational approach that teachers like to take because it allows them to maintain a good relationship with the student.

I was disappointed that the organizers didn’t have the panel discuss the top four questions decided upon by the teachers in the audience. They were just sort of left hanging in the air, while we got sidetracked onto a discussion about dissing evangelicals, arising from a comment Fr. Coyne had made. If Sarfati, Menton et al were there, plan on seeing some comments picking up on that.…

Johnathan (sic) Sarfati was NOT at the AAAS conference. There were only two AiG guys at the conference and only one with a laptop on Sunday.

You really need to give up your day job of trying to get people fired and get a real job. Try keeping your facts straight, Pattanowski.

O.K, so it was his pre-aged clone. I hope for the sake of the seat itself that Sarfati was not there. It hardly matters which AIG representatives were there anyway since they all have exactly the same ideas. Anyway, Ken Ham’s “blog” still thinks the pair was “incognito”. The entry there appears after my post here. What is with the references to employment? Speaking of facts, my day job is not firing people. I hope you haven’t confused me with Donald Trump. Maybe I need to get a haircut, but my job is very rewarding. Are you speaking of my bringing up Menton’s involvement with Harunyahya and the Muslim creationist organization called “Bilim Arastirma Vakfi” that he spoke for in Turkey in 1998?

Just a guess. Please clarify!

Now I will learn how to post links on blogs. I do apologize…I am in fact just learning how to post on these things!

I wonder why the incognitos need so much time before reporting on the event?

Nice to “see” you again Eugenie!

IF you’re still lurking about, I had a few questions…

what was the overall mood of the conference?

Were most taking it seriously, including the scientists?

were there many scientists there that did not know feel ID was anything to take seriously?

I’m kinda interested in whether it really was “preaching to the choir” as the media rather ineptly put it.


what was the reaction to the formation of the Alliance for Science? Was there general interest, or was it too new to generate much interest at the conference itself?

and lastly:

how are you these days? anything you’d like to promote as an upcoming event?

oh wait… one more question.

I have a friend who worked with Corwin filming white sharks last year. He seems a bit… odd.

what were your impressions of him?

do you think he has enough influence with animal entertainment networks like Animal Planet to get them interested in some of the real science behind all the facade work they do with animals? maybe to get them interested in the very issues we are discussing here, like science education?


You guys are the 31407 best, thanks so much for the help.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on February 20, 2006 1:43 PM.

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