A Day In The Life Of Scott

If it can't be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion

Evolution, a theory? Who’d have thought?

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The following is based on a long-running debate in the US about teaching evolution in public schools. This is the link to a Routers article discussing a recent decision in Florida.

According to Routers the state of Florida will now be teaching Evolution in public schools. But, just wait, they are teaching it “as a theory” because Charles Darwin’s ideas have yet to be proven. Go figure. As a biologist with some background in evolutionary biology, I had no idea it was actually proven in the first place. I know there seems to be more evidence to support this “theory” being discovered, be it genetic similarities between organisms or something as simple as common bone structures.

I have been confused about the whole debate going on in the United State with regard to teaching evolution in school. Why is it such a problem? I was taught about evolution in high school, I took courses in university, and now as a biology teacher I teach it to my students as part of the curriculum. Never once are we told, or do I have to tell my students “evolution is how it happened” or “this is the only way.” I think our curriculum in Atlantic Canada is designed to inform students of evolutionary theory, how it works, and about the other scientists who have contributed to the theory as it is known today. Clearly there is still a lot of research taking place in this area of biology, so we do our part to teach students about the research and the mechanisms behind the theory of evolution.

I should point out that in Newfoundland, up until the late 1990’s the entire school system was denominational and schools districts were guided by principles of the church. Today, the school system is remodeled and non-denominational, but many of the schools are still grouped by religion in the sense that the communities are small, so most of the population would all belong to local churches. I happen to teach in a Roman Catholic school, the science curriculum tells me I need to teach my students about evolution, there is no dispute in any school that I am aware of. Religion classes teach students about creationism in junior high. So, by the time students reach their senior year they already know about creationism, and are more or less informed about evolutionary theory from other sources. When they reach grade 12 they are able to put their own beliefs together, be it creationism or evolution.

I should point out, that I do sort of lean towards evolution as the explanation to how we got where we are today, but that is because I am a skeptic scientist, and I don’t have much faith in creationism in the first place. While, this is my opinion, I don’t think it is my job as a teacher to say “hey kids, you must believe this and drop all your other beliefs from this point forward.” I think is more my job to inform them so they can decide for themselves.

Quite frankly, I think not teaching an important scientific idea in public schools is silly. It is called the “theory of evolution” because it is just that, A THEORY! Thus far there are so many gaps in the fossil record, and unanswered questions about the pin-point-perfect mutations and such, that it cannot be called anything more than a theory. While, personally I think it is the most likely explanation for our present existence on earth today, it is only a THEORY about how we came to be. It is one of the most important scientific theories to date, and to teach it as “just a theory” as they propose to do in Florida, seems a bit harsh, because it will likely not get the attention it so deserves. I find it disconcerting that science teachers in America would stand for such nonsense.

I have one piece of advice…. Leave science in the science classroom. Leave religion for church or the religion classroom. Given that politicians probably have no scientific (or religious) background and qualifications to teach, leave the educating to the teachers.

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Author: Scott Oosterom

I live in Cut Knife, Saskatchewan, Canada. I teach high school math/ science at Chief Little Pine School in Little Pine, Sk.

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