Eugenie Scott and Bertha Vazquez on “Reaching the 60%” for Evolution Education

October 29, 2016

Eugenie Scott could probably just walk up to the microphone and read the phone book (for the millennials, those are extremely large paperback dead-tree books with very thin pages that listed the phone numbers of every human and establishment in a given geographical area). She positioned herself as a “warmup act” for Bertha Vazquez of TIES (Teachers Institute for Evolutionary Science), but come on. It’s Eugenie. She is adored among this crowd, and really, she’s earned it. You don’t need me to tell you that.

cv8tfhqvmae1vg3Scott came to discuss the “sins” against evolution education in public schools, and the stats are indeed sad. According to a 2011 survey, 60% of teachers were “teaching evolution, but not so you’d notice.” This 60% “qualify” their teaching, going through the “teach the controversy” line of thinking, apologize for teaching evolution, or limit the subject to microbes.

In other words, despite victories like the one Scott helped bring in the Dover Intelligent Design case, “evolution is winning in the courts, but losing in the classrooms.”

So what is being done to reach those teachers?

14907590_10154081945670698_6787172562982360594_nBertha Vazquez, a middle school science teacher who runs the TIES program with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, is here to do something about it.

Saying she has the “greatest job on Earth,” she also admitted that she often feels like she is being “pecked to death by ducks.” You can see why she’s such a great teacher: very evocative language.

Vazquez talked about the pushback she gets from students and parents around the teaching of evolution, as well as the reticence, addressed by Scott, of teachers to tackle the subject. There are of course those teachers hostile to evolution, with the attitude that evolution is akin to zombies, “You don’t have to believe in evolution to understand what it is.” Not helpful.

“Teachers need to feel confident teaching this subject,” she said, and then used the same number Scott did from the 2011 survey. She said you have the 20% or so of teachers who are doing great teaching evolution, the 20% who reject it and teach creationism, and “it’s the 60% of teachers in the middle I want to reach.”

So, battling some overwhelming technical difficulties with the slide presentation that were beyond her control, she went on to explain what TIES does to reach that 60%. Fossils, the current relevance of evolution (such as antibiotic resistance), and an understanding that these teachers are not alone, that they have allies and support.

To help with religious resistance, she shows examples of religiously-believing evolutionary biologists right alongside the work of folks like Dawkins.

The response she’s gotten from teachers who have taken TIES workshops is truly inspiring, you can feel the relief and the sense of accomplishment from the messages Vazquez gets.

And now TIES has a new partnerships program to bring nearby biologists into middle school science classes, in collaboration with an in support of those middle school teachers.

This is the real world good this movement is doing. It doesn’t get much more foundational than this.

Eugenie Scott has long been a hero to this crowd, and ever shall be. I think they added another today to their roster of heroes. As Dawkins said from the audience, “Bertha, you’re a star.”