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Michael Berkman

Professor of Political Science

Pennsylvania State University

Enablers of Doubt: How Teachers Negotiate the Evolution Wars in their Classrooms

March 30th, 2015

Academic Building A G008, 5:05 PM

Cosponsored with the Graduate School of Education

Abstract

Eugenie Scott has identified three pillars that define contemporary anti-evolution efforts: Sowing doubt toward “mainstream” scientific positions, demanding equal time for evolution and non-scientific alternatives, and reinforcing the idea that science and religion are incompatible with one another. Of these, sowing doubt is common to other anti-science efforts, such as denying climate change; Naomi Oreskes has referred to the proponents of this political strategy as “Merchants of Doubt.”

High School biology teachers play a crucial role in whether the standard high school biology course reinforces the scientific consensus or confers some legitimacy on creationist perspectives.  Drawing on a 2007 nationally representative survey of high school biology teachers as well as a recent series of focus groups with pre-service teachers, Eric Plutzer and I show that teachers often employ classroom strategies consistent with these three pillars, sometimes inadvertently undermining evolution.  Their decisions about how to teach evolution are shaped their own views as well as their pre-service education, where teachers first develop coping mechanisms to deal with the controversial topic of evolution.

Biography

Michael Berkman is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Penn State Center for American Political Responsiveness. He is the author, along with Eric Plutzer, of Ten Thousand Democracies: Politics and Public Opinion in America’s School Districts (University of Pittsburgh Press) and Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms (Cambridge University Press).  The evolution research was named by Discover Magazine as one the Top 100 Science Stories of 2008, and recognized by the College of Liberal Arts at Penn State with its excellence in social sciences award. Berkman’s research on state and local politics and policy has also been published in numerous academic journals, including Science, PLOS-Biology, and the American Political Science Review. Berkman holds a B.A. from the State University of New York at Binghamton (now Binghamton University) and a PhD in political science from Indiana University.

 

Reading

Reading will be posted to the EvoS blackboard group. Anyone with a Binghamton University email address can request to be added to the blackboard group by emailing EvoS[at]binghamton[dot]edu.

Video

Will be available within a week of the talk.


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