Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A story about teachers, minus the teachers

The NYT ran this story yesterday on teaching evolution around the country. The conclusion?
Teaching guides and textbooks may meet the approval of biologists, but superintendents or principals discourage teachers from discussing it. Or teachers themselves avoid the topic, fearing protests from fundamentalists in their communities.

This sounds like a rip-roarer of a story, and CJR's Campaigndesk sure thought so. But I read this piece a little differently. Namely, after 1,600+ words on teachers feeling the chill in broaching the subject of evolution, Ms. Dean skirts one important issue: teachers.

Oh, there are experts and "curriculum review" folks who give their second-hand tales of teachers afraid to teach, who quietly close the book, who may be fundamentalists unwilling to teach a theory that goes against their core beliefs. And all those stories may be true. In fact, one biology teacher in Ohio is quoted in the story -- he is the only one. But his story serves to undercut the thesis: namely he teaches evolution, but in "little bits and pieces" throughout the year. Interesting, but a little weak, no?

As for the villains in these stories, the aforementioned principals and superintendents? What do they have to say for themselves? Not much, because they're not quoted.

Ms. Dean quotes people who say they hear "all the time" and "constantly" from teachers who feel the chill from local schools. Couldn't those contacts have set her up with a teacher to tell her first hand, instead of relying on second-hand testimony?

Hey, this could have been a fantastic piece. Instead, it is something that does not deliver on its sweeping premise. And I'm aware of Ms. Dean's bona fides as editor of the section, but if I saw a draft of this, I'd send it back and tell her to get me some real, honest-to-God teachers who are actually, really, not teaching Darwin's theory.

NOTE: a "Dr. Jon Miller" is quoted in the story. I am not him.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I'm a freelancer who often contributes to the NYT.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 9:20 AM

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