A Happy Story About Science Education April 1, 2011

A Happy Story About Science Education

Dale McGowan‘s daughter came home last month and was gushing about one of her teachers:

“We started evolution in science today.”

A tickle of dread went down my spine…


“And it’s awesome. He’s teaching all about it, just like you would. He explained what theory really means, and said that the evidence is incredibly strong for evolution, and when kids started saying, ‘But the Bible says blah blah blah,’ he just put his hand up and said, ‘You can talk about that with your minister. In this class we are learning about science, about what we know.”

We’re so used to criticizing bad science teachers that it’s easy to forget how to react when you hear about one who teaches it correctly!

After taking all this in, Dale offers excellent advice (emphasis his):

we’ve got to get just as good and consistent at complimenting the good as we are at complaining about the bad.

It’s not just a question of good manners. If we really care about quality in the classroom, it’s a practical imperative.

Imagine you’re a biology teacher. The evolution unit is approaching, again, and you know for certain you will get a half dozen scolding emails from angry parents the moment the word crosses your lips. Again. If you’ve never received a note of thanks for tackling the topic honestly, it’s easy to feel isolated and beleaguered. Who could blame you for gradually de-emphasizing the topic until it disappears completely? Even a teacher with the best of intentions can be worn to a nub from years of self-righteous tirades.

Coming from a teacher’s perspective, I can tell you the whole mood of our office changes when one of us gets a positive email. (And CCs the boss on it.) It doesn’t happen often — because, again, parent are generally more used to tearing apart bad teachers instead of praising the good ones — but when it does, the teachers are on a cloud the rest of the day.

It makes you want to rush back into the classroom and do an even better job with the kids.

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  • That is such a cool story! I’ll have to remember to send complimentary e-mails to my kids’ teachers, er, when I have kids.

  • April

    Yes, thanks for reminding me to send an email to some of my kids’ teachers.

  • A very good point. We need to cultivate the “good ones.”

  • tennismom

    I wish we had her science teacher and more like him in our school system. I know we have one good one cause I fought to get my son in her class this year. I won (LOL)! He was originally in a class with a teacher I had sub’ed for that had a question on a makeup test she left for me to give…”Does God determine the sex of a baby?” Then we have another science teacher that tell the kids in class that she DOES NOT believe in evolution and will NOT teach it. Not sure how she gets away with it…(oh yeah I remember, the principal is as backwards as she is). We have some really good teachers also, and maybe it’s because I’m a substitute teacher…but I send them emails to thank them for their hard work and also send goodies from time to time. Teachers love homemade goodies and really appreciate getting them, as much as I appreciate their hard work with my kids!

  • CanadianNihilist

    My biology teacher in high school was a bit more brash but never backed down on the subject of evolution. It’s great teachers like that that give me hope for the next generation.

  • Nele

    Yes, being a teacher myself, I can only agree that a single positive feedback can make a day for us! Thus, parents, please feel free to do something good to us, which will cost you nothing. 🙂

    Over here in Europe, specifically in Germany, evolution as a curricular topic is fortunately no problem. Creationism is rearing its ugly head occasionally, though. Regularly it’s simply some scientifically underqualified primary teachers who try to link the creation mythology to evolution because of the “beautiful” anologies and unwittingly reproduce ID-thinking. Sometimes it’s some real creationists who try to subvert the system.

    But fortunately, evolutionary theory is not questioned by the vast majority of neither teachers nor parents nor students.


  • Gail

    My biology teacher was Christian, but she never seemed to have a problem with teaching us evolution. She had a lot more problems with the Big Bang theory, and she spent like twenty minutes saying it was just a theory before teaching it to us for like three minutes.

  • Hemant,

    I like the stories highlighting teachers doing what should be expected instead of the negative stories that point out the short-comings or failings of many of those given the responsibility of educating our children.

    And, by the way — You still owe us an “Anarchy Evolution” review.

  • Yes, you always get the complaints, but when the compliments come through it can really help you stick with it!

  • Michael

    Had a biology teacher in high school, who’s response tot he controversy was this:

    e held up a Bible, and said “I want you to know, as I am teaching at a Catholic school, I am obligated by the big boss (that is, the principal) to teach you both sides of the controversy.”

    “So, here’s one side: God did it.”

    “We will now spend the rest of the semester learning about the alternative theory “Evolution.”
    “Ok, quick review, who did it?”

  • Walter

    What about setting up an “open school” on the net covering entire curriculum for both elementary and high schools. Those kids who want to learn more, beyond what is presented in the classroom, would be able to get the rest of the info on their own time. Any feedback for this idea?

  • Alice

    @Walter: You might want to check out Khan Academy. They don’t yet have a full curriculum, but that is the eventual goal of the project.

  • Moose

    Who could blame you for gradually de-emphasizing the topic until it disappears completely?

    My father was a general science teacher for the 7th and 8th grades-and tended to shy away from Evolution due to the interactions of such benighted kids and their idiot parents.

    I’m glad to see at least one teacher out there has the courage to stand up to theocratic misfits and inform them of their choice-learn, or go home.

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