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Divided We Fall: The Evolution Controversy as a Driver for Rethinking Science Education

Fri, April 28, 2:15 to 3:45pm, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Floor: River Level, Room 8A


Evolution is the unifying theory in biological sciences, yet in the United States, a majority of the population holds beliefs that are in conflict with those concepts and therefore are not completely open to considering evolutionary theory. The Gallup poll on evolution, creationism and intelligent design is one of the longest running polls following public perceptions of evolution. As of May 2014, the poll showed that, in the United States, 42% of the general public agreed with the statement that humans were created by God in their present form, with 31% agreeing that humans have evolved under the guidance of God, and 19% agreeing that humans have evolved without the involvement of God (Gallop, 2014).
Our present study, ongoing at more than 108 institutions of higher education around the United States, demonstrates that university students, including science and education majors, harbor similar levels of acceptance, misconceptions, misunderstandings of how scientific knowledge is generated, and misinformation when it comes to evolution content and provides comparison across regions that has not been previously possible (Glaze, Goldston, & Dantzler, 2015; Ingram & Nelson, 2006; Nehm, Kim, & Sheppard, 2009; Rissler, Duncan, & Caruso, 2014; Rutledge & Mitchell, 2002; Sinatra, Southerland, McConaughy, & Demastes, 2003).
Although some would note that acceptance is not a necessary component of understanding and application of scientific concepts, a point with which we concur, the resulting conflict and anti-science sentiment are indicative of issues with wider implications (Glaze & Goldston, 2015; Glaze, Goldston, & Dantzler, 2015; Goldston & Kyzer, 2009; Smith, 2010a, 2010b).
Here we examined quantitative trends in data from undergraduate students around the United States (n=5000). The intent is to demonstrate that changes to our approach to teaching and learning of evolution in the United States, where the topic is highly controversial, are needed to bridge gaps between the scientific community and the public, not only for evolution but for science literacy.
The data indicates that focusing on the nature and practice of science can provide a foundation for deeper discussion and exploration of topics in evolution and provide students the opportunity to grapple and connect with science on a deeper level (Glaze, Goldston & Dantzler, 2015; Lederman, Antink, & Bartos, 2014; Scharmann, Smith, James & Jenson, 2005). Furthermore, culturally responsive teaching provides students the opportunity to explore different ways of knowing in a context that is non-threatening and empowering, allowing them to ask, and seek answers to, questions they otherwise might avoid (Pobiner, 2016).
This study provides a starting point for a national evaluation of our approaches to science education, teacher education, and university science instruction. Science literacy is a necessity for modern and future society in light of the challenges we face. By examining and addressing how we teach, learn, and talk about those things that are most controversial, we can bridge the gaps that make other conversations possible.