Episode 59 – The Courage to Teach


Dr. Eric Plutzer

This week we discuss evolution education with Dr. Eric Plutzer, co-author of “Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom” – a recently published article in Science Magazine.  Dr. Plutzer discusses the paper, and what the results reveal about how much evolution is actually being taught in biology classrooms across the nation.

The Cautious 60:

The cautious 60% may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists. The strategies of emphasizing microevolution, justifying the curriculum on the basis of state-wide tests, or “teaching the controversy” all undermine the legitimacy of findings that are well established by the combination of peer review and replication. These teachers fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments, even if unintentionally (Berkman and Plutzer, “Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom”, Science: 28 January, 2011).


Direct download: LOL59.mp3


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  • Al V Frisby

    Too often teachers are afraid that any lesson given in the classroom, whether fact or reason, might eventually make it to a parent that is ultaconservative. These teachers are doing a diservice to their students. As a retired bio teacher in KS during the nineties, I was fully involved in the debate over creationism. I undertand the repercussions of elaborating on natural selection related the scientific theory of evolution—I got my fair share of criticism during my 37 years of teaching–but I never waivered. I even had CNN in my classroom and my picture on the front page of the Kansas City Star—all unwanted, but needed to get the word out there. Teachers! Get a backbone and teach what is peer reviewed and accepted by the scientific community.

  • Robin Williams

    You should not even accept any concessions. The top 1% of Americans are rolling in bucks and giveaways to corporations continue. The Republicans and corporate elite are drumming up anti-union sentiment and scapegoating public employees. The talk-radio shows whoop up TEA party folks and others trying to make one worker envious of another over issues like pensions and health benefits. Everyone should have good pensions and health benefits. We must stand together or we will all go back a century in workers’ rights.

    I am a biology teacher who teaches evolution as a fundamental unifying principle.

    By the way, I may be an older teacher, but I’m a very progressive person. I wish the younger teachers were as progressive. I also integrate new technologies and activities into my classroom instruction.

  • c Shaffer

    I believe we should be careful with overstating what we teach about evolution. I have been teaching and exploring this controversy for about 20 years now and I do not understand why we cannot be honest with what we cannot explain. I have found no plausible explanation for the origin of life by natural causes. I hope that honest scientists and human beings can speak with facts and admit what is still unknown. I would side with the 60% but I do not think they have to be so quiet.

    I respectfully contest that evolution does not explain what we see in the living world completely.

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  • J Barnett

    As a preservice teacher who has thoroughly enjoyed Lab Out Loud podcasts, I would just like to say that regardless of what happens with the teacher’s unions, Dale and Brian have provided a wonderful and inspiring resource for me. I really appreciate the excellent job they have done with their podcasts.

    To expand on one of the points made during the current podcast, I find it invaluable to have a resource like Lab Out Loud that I can use to increase my confidence and knowledge when discussing issues such as the teaching of evolution. I hope I would be someone who would stand up for teaching evolution as sound science. Knowing that there are support networks for science teachers such as the NSTA means a lot to someone who is just getting started in the field at this volatile political time.

    Dale and Brian, thanks again for your work! You truly deserve more respect for the job you do as educators.