An analysis of factors influencing the teaching of evolution and creation by Arizona high school biology teachers
Contributor(s)Schiffer, Michael B.
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AbstractThis study examined the amount of emphasis given by Arizona high school biology teachers to the topics of evolutionary theory and special creation, as explanations for the origin and diversity of life on earth. A questionnaire was mailed to all Arizona public high school biology teachers in March of 2000, to gather data on teachers' classroom practices and attitudes towards evolution and creation, information on teachers' educational and professional backgrounds, their religious preferences, and any perceptions of pressure regarding the teaching of evolution or creation from outside sources. Sixty-five percent (final n = 419) of the questionnaires were returned. Analysis confirmed that, while a strong majority (96%) of Arizona teachers gave some coverage to evolutionary theory, a significant proportion (33%) reported fewer than three class periods per semester in which evolution was a major topic; 10% left it out entirely. Fourteen percent of the teachers reported that they gave moderate-to-strong emphasis to religious explanations of the origins and diversity of life. It was unclear whether this was presented as an alternative scientific theory, or as religion or philosophy. Between ten and thirty percent also rejected the scientific validity of evolutionary theory, rejected the evolution of humans from ape-like ancestors, thought that religious explanations should be taught as part of high school biology classes, or agreed that creationism has a valid scientific foundation. The amount of emphasis given evolution by a teacher correlated positively with teaching experience, number of college classes in evolutionary biology taken by the teacher, the amount of in-service training a teacher had had on teaching evolutionary theory, and age. It correlated negatively with membership in Conservative Christian religious denominations and with degree of religious fervor. Interestingly, the possession of a degree in biological sciences (e.g., versus a degree in education) had no effect. When teacher attitudes (as measured by a series of opinion questions) were taken into account in multiple regression models, all variables except specific evolutionary biology coursework became non-significant. The only variables that correlated with teacher emphasis on creationism were Conservative Christian church membership and religious fervor---both positive correlations. Again, education had no effect.