There's a lot to mourn about this Gallup poll on Americans' views of evolution: the raw numbers of people who believe humans have only been around 10,000 years or so; the correlation with religious activity and political party; the nearly one-quarter of people who simultaneously believe in evolution and creation, for starters. But it's a wholly unsurprising result. This is what happens when science and faith are treated as equally valid ways of looking at the natural world.

I also blame sloppy use of language in part, and I think even those who understand the evolutionary process are guilty of slipping into this from time to time. I've complained before about using the word "believe" when it comes to the evolution v. creation debate. It's a bad word to use because it's incorrect--one does not believe in evolution; one understands how evolution works--and because it shades the debate toward the mystical. Belief in this context requires a leap of faith, whether we're talking about an Evel-Knievel-rocket-over-the-Snake-River-Canyon leap (young earth creationism) or a hop over a ditch (watchmaker god who set us in motion and forgot about us), but there's no leap required for evolution. We've seen transformations of species in our lifetimes. Our entire medical system is based on understanding evolution. No belief required--just the ability to understand basic biological processes.

Science education also plays a major role in this issue, and there's plenty of blame to spread around. The lion's share, in my view, goes to the activists who have invaded school boards and pushed creationist/intelligent design nonsense into the curriculum, and who have backed politicians who either share their views or who want their money and votes bad enough to pretend to share them. Those of us who didn't fight back (or who don't fight back today) are also to blame; they were more politically active than we were, and now we're paying for it.

But I also blame universities, especially Education departments, and here's why. For the most part, this isn't an issue if science teachers actually know science, as well as education theory. But in my experience--which is admittedly limited--most people who get degrees in Education don't take more than 8 classes in the subject they're going to be teaching, and often take fewer than that. And in some cases, these are simplified courses---it's not uncommon to hear of classes called "stats for teachers" or "chemistry for teachers" by students. This isn't so big a deal when you're talking about elementary education, because the ideas being taught aren't all that complex, but middle and high-school teachers need to know their subjects, especially when it comes to science, and there's plenty of indications that they don't.

And I think Biology departments ought to be pushing back on this as well, because poorly trained teachers make them look bad, and make their jobs harder. (That's the case for every department, really.) I'd rather teachers get degrees in their subjects and do a separate accreditation period in education theory for anything above elementary education. Know your subject first, then learn how to teach it.

And finally, we have to do something to address, long-term, the problems with education in this country. I got into an argument on Twitter a few days ago with Adam Serwer, a blogger for Tapped who I generally respect, because he was all over this story about how teachers unions protect incompetent teachers instead of letting them be fired. He never seemed to get that the ability to fire teachers is a sideshow that allows administrators and administrations to ignore the real problem, which is that our classes are too crowded and teachers can't do their jobs well most of the time. Even good teachers are handicapped by having 30 kids to a class, 6 times a day. That's too much work, no matter what the pay. Let an administrator fire teachers without any due process and you'll wind up with a show of action and no real change. There will be more stats-juking, and we'll still wind up with under-educated kids.

And we'll continue where we are today, or perhaps get worse, where nearly half (or more, depending on the question asked) the population of the US believes that God created humans in pretty much their present form about 10,000 years ago. And if that doesn't depress you, well, you're in a way better place than I am.

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