NCSE Evolution and Climate Education Update for 2012/07/06
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, The latest twist in the Freshwater saga. A new poll on climate change. And a new discussion of the challenges to teaching evolution from Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, the authors of Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms.
FRESHWATER APPEAL TO BE HEARD The Ohio Supreme Court will hear the appeal of John Freshwater, the middle school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio, who was fired over his inappropriate religious activity in the classroom, including teaching creationism. The Associated Press (July 5, 2012) summarized, "The court said Freshwater can argue that it is unconstitutional to fire someone without clear guidance on what teaching materials or methods are acceptable. Freshwater also can argue that it is unconstitutional to fire someone over the mere presence of a religious text like the Bible in the classroom." In 2008, a local family accused Freshwater of engaging in inappropriate religious activity and sued Freshwater and the district. The Mount Vernon City School Board then voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment. After thorough administrative hearings that proceeded over two years and involved more than eighty witnesses, the referee presiding over the hearings issued his recommendation that the board terminate Freshwater's employment with the district, and the board voted to do so in January 2011. (The lawsuit against Freshwater was settled in the meantime.) Freshwater challenged his termination in the Knox County Court of Common Pleas in February 2011. When the challenge was unsuccessful, he then appealed the decision to Ohio's Fifth District Court of Appeals in December 2011. NCSE filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the appellate court, arguing that Freshwater's materials and methods concerning evolution "have no basis in science and serve no pedagogical purpose." In March 2012, the Fifth District Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's rejection of Freshwater's challenge. Freshwater then appealed that decision to the Ohio Supreme Court in April 2012. Documents relevant to Freshwater's termination and the subsequent court case are available on NCSE's website. Extensive blog coverage of the Freshwater saga, including Richard B. Hoppe's day-by-day account of Freshwater's termination hearing, is available at The Panda's Thumb blog; search for "Freshwater". Hoppe also recently contributed "Dover Comes to Ohio" -- a detailed account from a local observer of the whole fracas, from the precipitating incident to Freshwater's appeal -- to Reports of the National Center for Science Education 32:1. For the Associated Press article (via the San Francisco Chronicle), visit: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Ohio-court-to-hear-appeal-of-teacher-in-Bible-case-3685906.php For NCSE's friend-of-the-court brief (PDF), visit: http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1716 For NCSE's collection of materials from the case, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/freshwater-termination-hearing For The Panda's Thumb blog, visit: http://pandasthumb.org/ For Hoppe's "Dover Comes to Ohio" (PDF), visit: http://reports.ncse.com/index.php/rncse/article/view/99/92 And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Ohio, visit: http://ncse.com/news/ohio A NEW POLL ON CLIMATE CHANGE Almost three in four of Americans accept recent global warming, according to a new poll conducted for the Washington Post and Stanford University -- but only three in ten agree that it is mainly due to human activity. Asked "Do you think that the world's temperature probably has been going up ["slowly" was used with half of the sample] over the past 100 years, or do you think this probably has not been happening?" 73% of respondents said yes, 25% of respondents said no, and 2% indicated that they didn't know or refused to answer. Asked (with two different wordings) about the cause of the rise in the world's temperature, 30% agreed that it was due mostly to human activity, 22% agreed that it was due mostly by natural causes, 47% agreed that it was due about equally to human activity, and 1% indicated that they didn't know or refused to answer. Asked "How much do you trust the things that scientists say about global warming?" 6% of respondents responded "completely," 22% "a lot," 33% "a moderate amount," 26% "little," 11% "not at all," and 1% indicated that they didn't know or refused to answer. For the first two of these questions, about the rise in the world's temperature and its cause, the report of the poll provides comparable data extending back to March 2006; the third question, about trusting scientists about global warming, was new. According to the report of the poll, it "was conducted by telephone June 13 to 21, 2012, among a random national sample of 804 adults, including landline and cell phone-only respondents. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points." For the report of the poll (PDF), visit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/documents/global-warming-poll.pdf And for NCSE's collection of polls and surveys on climate change, visit: http://ncse.com/polls/polls-climate-change "AN EVOLVING CONTROVERSY" Will a new generation of science standards improve the teaching of science? Writing in the summer 2012 issue of American Educator, Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, the Pennsylvania State University political science professors who coauthored Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms (Cambridge University Press, 2010), offer their view: "We see a rough road ahead for teachers." Noting that A Framework for K-12 Science Education -- on which the Next Generation Science Standards now under development are based -- emphasizes the centrality of evolution in the life sciences, they note that evolutionary biology is poised to become "much more salient for many teachers who have never before had to teach it." They add, "Understanding the challenges of teaching evolution has increasing relevance, therefore, across the science curriculum and speaks to more general debates concerning the importance of teachers having deep content knowledge." After discussing the basis for the scientific consensus on evolution, Berkman and Plutzer review the current public opinion polls on teaching evolution and creationism in the public schools, the religious roots of antievolutionism, and their own national poll of public high school biology teachers, which revealed that only 28% are "clear advocates of evolutionary biology," while 13% are advocates of creationism and 60% are in the "cautious middle," many of whom "do not feel like they have the expertise they need to confidently teach evolutionary biology in a rigorous and unapologetic manner." Emphasizing the importance to society of a sound science education, they express hope that "educators will be supported by their administrators and community members so they can teach evolution, climate change, the antiquity of the universe, and any other socially controversial subject with the same commitment to scientific accuracy as when they teach other topics in science." For Berkman and Plutzer's "An Evolving Controversy" (PDF), visit: http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/summer2012/berkman_plutzer.pdf For Berkman, Pacheco, and Plutzer's report on their national poll of teachers, visit: http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.0060124 Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution and climate education and threats to them. -- Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x305 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Read Reports of the NCSE on-line: http://reports.ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/join