In April, reader Hempenstein called my attention to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporting the paper’s survey of 106 Pennsylvania high-school science teachers. The disturbing result was that more than 32% of the teachers adhered to some form of creationism. A national survey by Penn State researchers also showed that between 17% and 21% of high-school teachers in the U.S. actually introduce creationism into the science classroom.
Naturally, because I’m a radical evolutionary atheist (and a member of the Darwin Lobby), I wrote an outraged post on this site highlighting the Post-Gazette poll, one feature of which was pretty disturbing. I quote from my post:
One of the surveyed teachers made the mistake of admitting publicly, using his name, that he actually teaches creationism in his classroom. To wit (my emphasis):
“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.”
‘Kids ask all kinds of personal questions and that’s one I don’t shy away from,” he said. “It doesn’t in any way disrupt the educational process. I’m entitled to my beliefs as much as the evolutionist is.” [JAC: yeah, but he’s not entitled to foist them as science on credulous high-school students!]
Mr. Sohmer responded to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette questionnaire distributed this spring to school teachers statewide, and he agreed to discuss his teaching philosophy. He said school officials are comfortable with his methods.
I reported this article to the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), which sent a letter to the Altoona superintendent of schools (see here for their letter). And the FFRF just received their reply, which denies the whole thing:
Well, this response seems a bit dubious in light of Sohmer’s claim that “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.” “Them” implies “more than one student”, and in fact more than a private conversation. Second, Sohmer said that “school officials are comfortable with his methods.” That implies that his “methods” aren’t exactly imparting straight science to the students.
But since the school denies any creationism, and no student has come forth to complain, this issue is at an end. Clearly, though, that the Altoona school district knows it’s being watched, and that any incursion of creationism in science class, even by Mr. Sohmer (who should be ashamed of teaching superstition to even a single student), is unacceptable.
At any rate, the FFRF, has just sent a four-page letter to every school-district superintendent in Pennsylvania; you can download their letter here. That will certainly get their attention, and, unlike Ball State University, I doubt that even Larry Moran or P. Z. Myers could argue that high school teachers have the “academic freedom” to teach creationism in science class.
Do think about joining the FFRF (which you can do here). It’s only $40 per year, and, unlike some other secular organizations, the FFRF is down in the trenches every day fighting legal battles to support the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.