Advice to a Young, Pro-Evolution Teacher February 21, 2008

Advice to a Young, Pro-Evolution Teacher

A letter to atheist advice-giver Molleen Matsumura in her Sweet Reason column reads like this:

I’m a student in a teacher certification program in Texas, and I’m pretty nervous about how my atheism is going to play out as an elementary school teacher . So many of the other students in my program at the Univ. of Texas at Dallas are such fervent evangelicals, that I often feel suffocated and angry at their ignorance. It is apparent that they’ll sidestep every effort to teach evolutionary principles, and will promote creationism as an “alternative”. I’m sure most parents will support this.

I feel so strongly about the issue of free inquiry and science, that I’m afraid I’ll end up butting heads with parents, other teachers, and administrators, but then, another part of me is bent on holding to my principles. I’m just very conflicted.

One person I talked to pointed out that I can stand up for my principles without necessarily saying where they come from. I’ve started thinking that as long as I’m respectful toward others’ views, I don’t need to feel afraid or ashamed of my own; and I can choose whether to share, based on the situation and the other person.

That said, I also realize that a professional educator should refrain from promoting religious beliefs or nonbelief, and help kids learn the processes of thinking for themselves. Yes, there are many liberal or at least semi-tolerant believers here, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that there are tons of very radical fundamentalists, too. It’s ingrained in the culture and it’s inescapable–even my dentist and my employer are openly fundamentalist.

I’m still unsure about how to approach the topic of evolution (the age of the earth, dinosaurs, etc.) with kids, even if I’m only going to be teaching at the elementary level.

Student Teacher Intelligently Designing Career

You can offer your own thoughts or read what Molleen has to say.

(via Humanist Network News)

[tags]atheist, atheism, Creationism, Intelligent Design[/tags]

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  • Please,

    leave United States and come to live in Europe.
    Our continent was ruled by religious fanatics for almost 2000 years and we are sick of hearing about religion and their dogmas.

    If you are a good teacher and you want to teach good history, good science, with no lies, myths and vague fairytales about duplicated bread fish and wine, please choose a european country and settle there.

    Intelligent people like you is always welcome. Let the texans die in their ignorance.

  • As a teacher in Canada I have come across this problem at a very minor level. The fundamentalists are a small minority here and they usually don’t get to pushy.

    Still, in elementary school you would probably rarely touch on evolution, except in passing. Up here the most contentious thing would be that we teach about early human ancestors in grade seven social studies.

    That being said, I do have the children of some young-earth-creationist parents in my class, but I have a good relationship with them. They know that I respect them as people, even though I disagree with their beliefs. When I teach anything that I know they will disagree with I let them know in advance and let them see what I’m doing and why. They appreciate it and it gives them the opportunity to discusss it with their children at home so they don’t feel threatened by it.

  • Wow, Mariobronx. This Texan sure is glad to hear that the freethinkers in this state have your support as we try to reform our system, against insurmountable odds, through better education. Oh wait. You suggested exactly the opposite of that. Well, never mind then.

  • Lysander

    The first thing that popped in my head was Hermant’s Interview with Eugenie Scott 🙂

    An article that may be of help is:

    Resources for Teaching Evolution
    Mary Wuerth. The American Biology Teacher. Washington: Feb 2004. Vol. 66, Iss. 2; pg. 109, 5 pgs

    Another one is Understanding the Nature of Science Through Evolution.

    Other resources (from the above articles):

    * PBS Evolution: This website contains teacher materials and student handouts on evolution.

    * University of California Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley and the National Center for Science Education: This is a good website for labs that explore evolution and NOS.

    * Woodrow Wilson Access Excellence: Students can explore various experiments and resources pertaining to evolution education
    through this website.

    * Issues in Evolution—ActionBioscience:
    evolution/index.html. At this site, students can read articles by
    scientists, science educators, and other science students on issues
    related to evolution.

    * NCSE (National Center for Science Education) Excellent site providing resources such as tips for testifying at school board meetings and writing letters, information and updates on court decisions, position papers from a variety of scientific and religious groups in support of teaching evolution, and links to many educational resources.

    * Creation Controversy and the Science Classroom, National Science Teachers Association (2000). A great publication containing background on evolution and the book of Genesis, and strategies for teaching evolution and other controversial topics.

    * Science and Creationism, National Academy Press (1999).

    * In the Light of Evolution: Education on Trial, National Association of Biology Teachers (1999).

    * Position Statements:
    From NABT (
    From NSTA (

    * Evolution Teacher’s Guide – Unit Seven, “Dealing with Controversy” (p.30-33), available online as pdf file at

    * Teaching Evolution. Online course for teachers on evolution and teaching strategies for helping students understand evolution at

    Another one I can think of at this time (sorry – I want to search 🙂 but I don’t really have time to right now 🙁 ), related specifically to teaching:
    SVP and Education

    **Some or most of the links from the articles may be dead, but can be found if you look; start by chopping off everything after “.org”.

  • Lysander

    Alrighty… Consider this addenda and corrections to the links in my previous post.

    UC-Berkeley Museum of Paleontology & NCSE : Understanding Evolution

    National Association of Biology Teachers: Evolution Resources (including position statement)

    National Science Teachers Association: position statements (31 in all (!) including the teaching of evolution)

    Apparently none of those PBS links are accurate, either, but I was able to to relocate them:

    PBS Teacher’s Guide: Evolution (the one with .pdfs)

    Other materials, including online courses for teachers and lessons and videos for students

  • Sherilyn

    To the soon-to-be teacher, please stay. I live a few miles from UTD and when my future children start elementary school, I hope there are teachers like you here in the mix that haven’t been run out of my state by all the fundies.

    “Dark” pretty much expressed my feelings on the other matter that has arisen here.

  • TXatheist

    I’m glad you are here in Texas and do have concerns that my son will come home one day and say his teacher said jesus made us 6000 years ago. My real concern is that if he tells her that’s bunk she’ll take it out on him by lowering his grades.

  • Joe

    If there’s one thing elementary school kids love, it’s dinosaurs. Kids will get excited when you start teaching about stuff like dinosaurs and giant animals that lived a long time ago. As they’re learning about dinosaurs, part of the lessons will be when they lived. If you teach dinosaurs, then the age of the earth follows. Kids aren’t stupid – even if their church or someone has given them some young-earth crap, when you teach them about dinosaurs and they get genuinely excited about them, then they will trust and believe you when you tell them they lived 70M years ago. Most likely it will be their parents and Sunday school teachers who get the questions about how it is possible that dinosaurs lived 100s of millions of years ago, and not you getting questions about the 6000 year old earth.

    In the end, though, you just have to stick to the science. That’s all you can do, really. Your faith, or lack thereof, is irrelevant to your teaching when in the science classroom. Growing up in North Carolina, I fortunately was never exposed to any faith-based science or anything like that, although I’m almost positive most or all of my teachers were Christian. Even so, it didn’t matter if they were Christian or Atheist or Hindu or whatever – as long as you stick to teaching what’s in the science book, you can’t go wrong. As far as parents and administers and such go, it would probably be unwise of you to wear your “I love Richard Dawkins” t-shirt to school, but it’s not like they can force you to go to church and sing hymns with them.

  • Aaron Feldsteen

    I am a substitute teacher for elementary education in South Texas. I am writing because I am tired of the seperation of church and state not being upheld – god is mentioned twice in the morning: in the pledge of allegiance and in the pledge to the state flag, then there is a moment of silence for prayer. Not just this, but banners that read “god bless the U.S.A” hang in every school, and crosses on the wall, christmas trees and ester eggs – the students even celebrated st patrick’s day: a man who was the anti-thesis to pluralism. Recently, there was a tragedy, a student died, which is more than enough for everyone to deal with, then the teachers told the students that the child will go to heavan, not reincarnate or anything else. As a graduate in the feild of anthropology I do not mind the teaching of plurality: that there may be many paths to salvation, but it is only the principlas of christianity which are taught. These students are very impressionable, and are not given the oppurtunity to think for themselves, brainwashing begins in the morning with the pledge, and the dogmas of christianity exist in all subjects: evolution is no longer taught. What can I do to help?

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