Though attempts to teach creationism (or its twin sister, intelligent design) in the classroom have been struck down in court, these anti-science approaches still influence the teaching of evolution in American schools. Barely more than one-quarter of 926 high school science teachers who responded to a survey published in Science this week unabashedly taught evolution in their classrooms.
Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer of Penn State have been watching this story for years, tracking whether courtroom victories like 2005’s Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District truly freed up teachers to teach evolution without fear. In an early 2008 study, a book, and new results published in Science, the answer is a depressing “no”:
Only 28% of the 926 teachers surveyed, “unabashedly introduce evidence that evolution has occurred and craft lesson plans so that evolution is a theme that unifies disparate topics in biology.” … Most biology teachers belong to the “cautious 60%,” who are “neither strong advocates for evolutionary biology nor explicit endorsers of nonscientific alternatives,” the study says. [USA Today]
It’s not that a wave of creationism is overtaking our biology teachers—just 13 percent of respondents said they advocated that viewpoint. What’s more likely, Berkman and Plutzer say, is a crisis of confidence. Says Berkman:
“The survey left space for [the teachers] to share their experiences. That’s where we picked up a lot of a sense about how they play to the test and tell students they can figure it out for themselves. Our general sense is they lack the knowledge and confidence to go in there and teach evolution, which makes them risk-averse.” [LiveScience]
It’s been two months since we last heard from the court case engulfing Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania, but the circumstances there keep getting stranger.
Back in February, the family of sophomore Blake Robbins filed suit against the school, charging that administrators had remotely accessed the webcams on Apple laptops loaned out to students to take pictures of students in their homes. Now, after two months of investigation, the family’s lawyers have expanded the case by claiming the school actually took thousands of photos. Some of the images included pictures of youths at home, in bed or even “partially dressed,” according to a Thursday filing in the case [Wired.com].
When we last left the Lower Merion School District, its officials had circled the wagons and refused to openly discuss the lawsuit charging school administrators with remotely accessing the webcams in the laptops loaned out to students, and doing so without the students’ or their parents’ knowledge. The school stayed pretty quiet about it over the weekend, but spokesman Doug Young says that the district has suspended the practice amid the lawsuit and the accompanying protests by students, the community and privacy advocates [The New York Times].
That might not be enough to quell the swell of anger over Lower Merion’s policy. The district, which loans out Apple laptops to all it students, admits remotely activating the webcams 42 times over the course of the last 14 months, but says all of those instances were attempts to find missing or stolen computers. However, this whole fracas started after school administrators tried to use a photo taken of student Blake Robbins as evidence to corroborate charges that the young man had engaged in some sort of mischief. Robbins told CBS News that the school accused him of selling drugs and tried to back up the charge with images from the webcam.
Robbins’ parents filed suit in U.S. District Court, but that won’t be the end of Lower Merion’s legal troubles. The FBI has launched a query into the incident. Risa Vetri Ferman, the Montgomery County district attorney, said Friday that she might also investigate [ABC News].
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Image: Wikimedia Commons / Andrew Plumb
Good idea: High school issuing laptops to its students so they can access school materials at any time. Bad idea: High school administrators using the webcams in those computers to spy on the students at home.
Ridiculous as it may sound, that’s exactly what a lawsuit (pdf) in U.S. District Court alleges a Pennsylvania school did. The parents of Blake J. Robbins sued Lower Merion School District, saying that administrators remotely accessed the webcam to spy on their son. Nowhere in any “written documentation accompanying the laptop,” or in any “documentation appearing on any Web site or handed out to students or parents concerning the use of the laptop,” was any reference made “to the fact that the school district has the ability to remotely activate the embedded webcam at any time the school district wished to intercept images from that webcam of anyone or anything appearing in front of the camera,” the complaint states [Courthouse News].