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Is Evolution Missing Link In Some Pennsylvania High Schools?

By: for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 3, 2013
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Some 20 percent of science teachers in survey say they believe in creationism.

During an Advanced Placement biology course in Easton Area High School, Jennifer Estevez's teacher sped through the large chapter on evolution, focusing on one formula for the AP exam and the basics: survival of the fittest and natural selection.

In those high school years in Northampton County, she also would attend a Baptist leadership retreat where a speaker denounced evolution as false, unproven science.

Seemingly unimportant and even discredited, evolution fell off her radar. So the Easton student, who is a Baptist, arrived at Duquesne University last fall considering herself a creationist, a person who generally believes God created the world as described in the Bible.

But a college biology course convinced her that evolution was valid science with overwhelming evidence that all living things, including humans, evolved most likely from a common ancestor -- over a period of millions, even billions, of years longer than that described in Genesis.

Ending her freshman year, and in pursuit of a career in medicine, Ms. Estevez, 19, said she's "a bit upset" that her high school teacher played down evolution while others trashed the science that serves as the foundation of modern biology, genetics and medicine.

"In high school, a lot was not taught correctly, and it didn't prepare me for college," she said. "They should have gone into evolution in detail. The controversy should not be what is taught in school."

Her experience represents the ill-kept secret about public school biology classrooms nationwide -- that evolution often isn't taught robustly, if at all. Faith-based belief in creationism and intelligent design continues to be discussed and even openly taught in public school classrooms, despite state curriculum standards.

"Sometimes students honestly look me in the eye and ask what do I think? I tell them that I personally hold the Bible as the source of truth," said Joe Sohmer, who teaches chemistry at the Altoona Area High School. The topic arises, he said, when he teaches radiocarbon dating, with that method often concluding archeological finds to be older than 10,000 years, which he says is the Bible-based age of Earth. "I tell them that I don't think [radiocarbon dating] is as valid as the textbook says it is, noting other scientific problems with the dating method.

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