Overcoming Roadblocks to the Teaching of Evolution

Evolution is essential to our curriculum and to scientific literacy, but despite this, it is often perceived as controversial and the pitfalls associated with teaching evolution can be more than just a bit discouraging. The result? Potential roadblocks. Most likely these will only be bumps on the road, but just in case, let’s begin with why teaching evolution is essential.

  1. Why teaching evolution is essential
    The history of life on Earth is fascinating. Science provides us with unending stories of life forms and ecosystems that have appeared and disappeared over the ages. These ideas alone should be reason enough to teach evolution. But you can also consider the following:

    • You can’t teach life science without it. Imagine teaching social science without teaching history. Time and perspective would be missing. In science, students need to understand life on Earth in terms of its history. Evolution is listed prominently as one of the “Unifying Concepts and Processes” for grades 9–12 in the National Science Education Standards, and the 1993 publication Benchmarks for Science Literacy cites evolution as an integral part of the science curriculum.

    • There are no alternative scientific theories to account for the observations explained by evolutionary theory. Alternative “theories” that have been proposed for insertion into the science curriculum have not been supported by valid science and are often based on belief rather than science. (Read more in our section on the Nature of Science.)

    • Evolution is valid science. It is based on multiple lines of evidence, which include data from paleontology, biology, geology, geography, chemistry, physics, and ecology. Information from numerous branches of science converge upon the certainty that the Earth is very old and life has changed over time. (Read more in our section on Lines of Evidence.)

    • Misconceptions abound. More than with most sciences, there are often misconceptions about evolution. Our job is to clarify. (Read more in our section on Misconceptions.)

  1. Identifying and overcoming roadblocks
    The first step to overcoming roadblocks is to identify the causes; then we can apply the appropriate strategies to overcome them. In the next sections, we will examine three possible sources of roadblocks—teachers themselves, their students, and sources from outside the classroom—and suggest effective strategies for dealing with them.

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Teacher Roadblocks

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This site was created by the University of California Museum of Paleontology with support provided by the National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
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