General Science and Teaching

Teaching a Topic against one's belief

Mon Feb 05, 2018 3:13 PM

Science has many controversial topics that many students, or parents, would not like for us to teach in class, however, because of our required curriculum, we need to. How do you go about this in class and with parents? Do you let them know in advance? What do you say if they come to you with a concern or complaint?

Daina Castillo
Daina Castillo
180 Activity Points

Tue Feb 06, 2018 12:04 PM

Our courses all have curriculum maps (required) that are posted to the district website for parent review. So, there is no further burden on the teacher to inform parents of any "troubling" topics. Science provides the framework and model for understanding our world is not about anyone's beliefs. If a parent does complain, they can be informed that the curriculum maps - which reflect the curriculum as approved by the local school,board - are available for their review.

Cris DeWolf
10995 Activity Points

Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:41 PM

Daina, This is a really good question, and I think we all struggle with this. There is an NSTA Virtual Conference online on March 3 that addresses the very issues you bring up. The focus, I think, will be on principles and strategies for dealing with all kinds of controversial issues - rather than a focus on a few specific issues. I rather like this approach because it allows me to addresses issues as they arise in the context of my audiences. The speakers are pretty impressive. You can sign up by going to Events and Opportunities in the NSTA Learning Center. I am planning on virtually attending.

Donald Boonstra
Donald Boonstra
8230 Activity Points

Tue Feb 06, 2018 8:57 AM

I’ve heard many different ways that teachers respond to inquiries/complaints from students or parents about evolution, and most of them miss the point.  It’s easy to tell a student that (s)he needs to know it because it will be on the test , and it’s easy to tell a parent that we teach about it because “it’s in the required curriculum” or “it’s in the state standards.”  But this is a cop-out and bad for a couple of reasons.  First, this answer implies that maybe you don't accept evolution either, but just have to teach it.  Second, the fact that it's in the curriculum or will be on the test is NOT why we teach it.  We teach it -- or should be teaching it -- because it is THE unifying concept in biology.  It's a tremendously important part of science and directly related to the development of life on Earth.

I see no reason to let parents know in advance.  In fact, to do so implies that there’s some uncertainty or problem about it, which, in science, there is not.  Besides, most schools have an open house for parents near the beginning of the school year, where they are made aware of the curriculum; so they should already know to expect that this topic will be covered.

For those who would like some ideas for responding to skeptical students (or parents or administrators), I can offer an article I wrote on this, which you can read online here:

We should always remain respectful, but that doesn't mean equivocating on established science.  Evolution is not what scientists "believe"; it is what they observe.  And it is observed to occur both in the lab and in nature.

Perhaps that's why organizations from most of the world's major religions accept evolution.  Students might be surprised to learn that their own religion doesn't object to it:

I'm not recommending that you show this to students necessarily, but it's good for us to know about.

What is important for students to know is that many scientists are deeply religious and see no conflict between science and a belief in God.  We don't (yet) know what caused the Big Bang, and many people believe that it was an act of God ("Let there be light...").  Similarly, many religious people who accept evolution believe that evolution is simply how God decided to have life develop on the earth.  This in no way contradicts any of the evolutionary science that we teach.

I hope that helps.  Let me know if you’d like more information.


Matt Bobrowsky
Matt Bobrowsky
3845 Activity Points

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