The authors express it this way:
Creationism has lost every major U.S. federal court case for the past 40 years, and state curricular standards have improved....But considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scienfitic methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America's classroom, where instruction in evolutionary biology 'has been absent, cursory, or fraught with misinformation'.
|Berkman and Plutzer, Science|
As scientists, we can't react except with concern about the thin training in evolutionary biology that US students are getting. But there are two things that all of us should ask, that might make it seem a less dismal situation than it seems.
1. First, how much does it matter? The senior generation in this country (of which we're a part) were trained without much, or even specifically with no, high school evolutionary training. For various reasons, including the pressure from fundamentalist Christian (or so they self-describe, though they may not have read even the Sermon on the Mount which tells what Christians should be about in their lives), evolution was simply omitted from texts. Even some introductory college Biology courses had relatively little evolution--a chapter, say, along with anatomy, classification, basic physiology, Mendelian genetics, and so on.
Yet this same generation is responsible for what amounts to a massive gain in knowledge across the life sciences, including evolution. So is our concern about high schools more than just our taking sides in the cultural battle now under way between the 'left' and 'right'? Does it really matter if most people don't believe in evolution? For those who need to know or use evolutionary perspectives, things are motoring along very well these days.
2. Secondly, some people choose to opt out of a purely material, experimental, empirical view of the world. They depend instead on mysticism, externally derived answers, reassuring dogma, or the comfort of the tribalism of the right. If that's how they wish to live their lives, and they don't want their kids exposed to what they object to in these very fundamental worldview areas, so what? Why not recognize that this is the 'age of science' only in some areas of life, for many people? Wouldn't it be just as good, in this particular sense, to insist that, at least, high school science teachers understood their biology itself? The things that people need to know about, like how genes work, how infectious organisms work, the diversity of living Nature, structures of human bodies and the nature of plants, etc.
Where are the teachers?
In our Honors class of 19 bright, thoughtful students last fall, in discussing this subject, the students all nodded in agreement as we pointed out the failure of our educational system (some of which they, as college seniors, had experienced only a few years earlier).
Then we asked: "OK then, so how many of you are going into teaching as your profession?"
The silence was deafening. The brightest students just aren't going to be teachers.
It is too easy to feel self-righteous and rue the absence of evolution in school curricula. But stepping back from our legitimate emotional engagement with the idea that the truth, the whole truth, as seen from the scientific worldview should be taught, suggests that the debate is about other things in our culture than whether the general public really needs to understand evolution as we scientists see it.
After all, within our own families, we have to make up at home for what the less than competent teachers do to or for our kids in all the subjects they are taught. There doesn't seem to be any legitimate empirical doubt that evolution is a fact of and about life. Fully educated people should realize that. But you can live perfectly well without it, as our benighted population shows, and for many the comfort of answers is worth all the truth that Darwin ever wrote.
At least, this is one way to ponder the strangeness of this persistent issue.