Saturday, August 23, 2008

Required evolution education reading - Amy Harmon on Florida Evolution teaching

Amy Harmon has done it again. First it was the series on the "DNA age" which had a suite of interesting pieces on the more personal side of DNA and genomics and won her one of those little pulitzer thingamajiggers. And now she has published a piece on the personal side of evolution education. This piece "A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash", which I think will be in tomorrow's Sunday New York Times, is really a must read for all interested in evolution education and evolution in general.

In the article, Harmon details the story of a Florida high school science teacher, David Campbell, and his efforts to teach evolution in a Biology class. I find the whole story fascinating in many ways. First, despite thinking I was paying attention, I was not really aware that Florida now required evolution to be taught in high school biology classes. Harmon details some of the history of how this came to be including how Campbell founded Florida Citizens for Science and helped push for new standards in biology teaching. Campbell's efforts to put science at the front of science teaching and to keep religious beliefs out is inspiring.

Harmon also details the trials and tribulations of Campbell actually trying to teach about evolution to high school students, many of whom come armed with anti-evolution ideas and literature. And Campbell does a great job with some subtle details --- in fact he seems to have a better grasp of evolutionary biology than many active biologists. For example, he does a good job with emphasizing that humans did not evolve from chimps but instead both evolved from a common ancestor. This is something many many biologists do not always get accurately.

I think the whole piece should be required reading for all evolutionary biologists, all biologists, and all science teachers. I confess, Harmon did ask me to glance the piece over a few days to give some feedback on a few sections, so I am perhaps a bit biased. But I am really hoping Harmon stays on this topic and does for evolution what she did for the DNA age, with a whole series on the personal side of things. This is so desperately needed with too much of the debate focusing on an argument about facts and faith and too little about the people in the trenches.

Addendum: Clearly lots of other bloggers liked this.  Here are some:


  1. I read the piece this morning and agree that it is very well done. Since my Evolution class starts tomorrow, I'll be pointing my students to it as well.

  2. Not a bad idea. Maybe I will make this required reading for our Intro Bio course too.

  3. Indeed that was a GREAT story. I like the idea of using it in class. I begin teaching my class genetics and society in 2 weeks. It will be perfect

  4. I just wanted to thank Jonathan for publicizing David Campbell's story well beyond the New York Times' ability to do so, and to say I'm honored that some folks are considering using the article in class. If anyone actually does this, I'd love to hear how students respond. (My email is

    Just as an update: Mr. Campbell has received an outpouring of (almost all positive) responses since the story ran, he has been interviewed by the BBC World Service, invited to a dinner with Francis Collins and several science education listservs have distributed the story. Most importantly, his mother liked it. -- Amy Harmon


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