Sunday, March 16, 2008

The polarity of evolution

A cartogram map, which accounts for population size among red
and blue states; based on 2004 presidential election.
Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman, University of Michigan.

In the current issue (Mar 2008) of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Kristi F. Bowman takes a look at the abundance, strength, and weakness with which evolution, intelligent design, and creationism are taught in U.S. high schools. The retrospective study asked college students via a survey about the teachings they received in their high school biology course. Eight U.S. states were represented in the study spanning the West, Midwest and South, and Northeast, with clear distinctions among the results.

While I was impressed with the degree to which the students from conservative states (Midwest and South) received evolution instruction (89 %), the survey results indicated a lower level of credibility was given to evolution teachings in these states. So it's taught with a wink and a nod? According to this study, if your kid takes high school biology in the Midwest or South, it's three times as likely that the evolution instruction he/she gets won't be taught with the same credibility as in the West or Northeast.

When Bowman's data was aggregated according to red and blue states (along republican and democratic political lines), the results are more contrasting. You can read it for yourself at the link. It's a little too depressing for me to summarize; having read it over once was enough.

Not to discount the profundity of these findings on evolution in public schools, but Bowman's study highlights the polarity of our country. This (growing?) trend is rooted even in our public schools... with the cultivation of young minds. What does this portend for the future? While the West and Northeast become increasingly progressive, the "reds" stagnate? Perhaps even regress? I don't know. This is a bit beyond the point of Bowman's study, and the sociology and political science avenues I'm taking it to are, well, a little "liberal" of me. Here's where my thought: isn't this very type of polarity of politics and religion the basis for long-standing strife in the Middle East? Will we look back on this time 200 years from now and wonder why we didn't put more emphasis on the unification of the United States?

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