Science education researchers on what science to teach

I’ve argued a few times that the theory of evolution shouldn’t be required learning for everyone–students and parents should be allowed to substitute another topic in biology like biochemistry or anatomy. I feel my argument has relied a bit too much on political theory and not enough on researchers who study science education. Let me try correct that here.

Here is a passage from George DeBoer in The Journal of Research in Science Teaching (emphasis added):

…local school districts should decide what to teach and how to teach it based on student interest, the expertise of teachers, and other local considerations. ..

There is a common perception on the part of teachers that they have to “cover” a certain amount of content. We also know that the link between specific facts and principles of science and any of the stated goals of science education is weak. For this reason, efforts at scientific literacy will be much more successful if we remove the burden of requiring all students to achieve mastery of a specific body of content…

Should teachers feel that they have to provide comprehesive summaries of the fields of cheistry, biology, physics, and earth science to high school students, overview courses that teach the organization of each of these disciplines as such? Certainly not for general education purposes. Although there is a great detal that students and teachers will find useful and interesting form the field of biology, there is little reason to teach a comprehensive overview of the field itself.

DeBoer, btw, directs the science literacy efforts of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. That’s about as mainstream as you can get.

Here’s another excerpt from an article by Feinstein et al.* in Science, one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed journals on Earth:

Schools should help students access and interpret the science they need in response to specific practical problems, judge the credibility of scientific claims based on both evidence and institutional cues, and cultivate deep amateur involvement in science…

Scientists, educators, and policy-makers claim that science education is useful, but what use is it to know a canonical collection of facts or an allegedly generic scientific method if people engage with specific pieces of science in highly contextualized ways?

There are more where those came from. So my suggestion that evolution can safely be substituted is not something I just made up. It flows pretty straightforwardly from arguments made by some of the top researchers in science education.
* Disclosure: In grad school I took Noah Feinstein’s course on science education. He accepts no responsibility for my views:-)

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