Teaching creationism as part of the united states public school science curricula
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Teaching Creationism as Part of the United States Public School Science Curricula. Paul Godden - April 3 rd 2013 EDUC895: Topics in Qualitative Research. Introduction.

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Teaching Creationism as Part of the United States Public School Science Curricula

Paul Godden - April 3rd 2013

EDUC895: Topics in Qualitative Research


The First Amendment to the United States Constitution (the Establishment Clause), forbids the establishment of a national religion and/or the advancement of any one religious doctrine over another in American public schools (U.S. Const. Amend. I, 1791).

Since the Scopes monkey trial of 1925 (Linder, 2008), the first legal confrontation over religion and science in U.S. public education, a controversy has arisen across the United States, between the teaching of scientific theory in the form of evolutionary science and religious doctrine in the form of creationism.

Rationale—The Debate

Since that first trial in 1925, creationist adherents have sought to have religious doctrine—creationism—legally taught in the science classes of U.S. public schools.

The debate has raged through schools; the U.S. judicial system; academic journals; the internet; the popular press and even television documentaries (see handout for a brief list).

To date, not one case has accepted the teaching of creationism as science, yet the National Centre for Science Education has confirmed that, attempts to change legislation are still being made (NCSE, 2013).

Rationale—Teaching Practice (I)

Research has shown that the teaching of religious doctrine in U.S. public school science classrooms, continues illegally as part of the undocumented, hidden curriculum (Berkman & Plutzer, 2011; Davis& Kenyon, 1993; Donnelly & Boone, 2007; Long, 2011; Moore, 2000, 2004; Scott & Branch, 2006).

Berkman and Plutzer (2011), surveyed more than 900 U.S. science teachers over 49 states…

31% of survey respondents advocated creationism by allocating up to one hour of class time.

60% of respondents were neither advocates for evolutionary biology nor its alternatives.

28% of respondents indicated that they were advocates of evolutionary biology.

Rationale—Teaching Practice (II)

Similarly, in 2004, Moore surveyed 103 Minnesota biological sciences teachers, for their knowledge of the law relating to teaching evolution.

Unsolicited comments on the questionnaires included, “I’m a creationist and I plan my schedule so that I run out of time and don’t have to cover evolution” and “I refuse to teach evolution, but I talk about creationism whenever I can.”

(Moore, 2004, p. 861).

Rationale—Teaching Practice (III)

This excerpt from a U.K. television documentary (Sapin, 1996), provided an illustration of many teacher and student attitudes to teaching creationism in U.S. public science classes, with on-screen observations of classroom teaching and student participation.


The overarching purpose of this study is to examine why, given the weight of scientific evidence, government policy and legal precedent, attempts are still made to legalise the teaching of Christian doctrine—in the form of creationism and intelligent design—in United States public school science curricula (NCSE, 2013); and why despite the illegality of teaching creationism as part of U.S. public school science classes, a large number of high school science teachers make the deliberate effort to teach creationist material as part of an undocumented, or hidden, curriculum (Berkman & Plutzer, 2011; Moore, 2004).

Research Questions

  • Specifically, this study seeks to investigate two main research questions:

  • What arguments have been put forward to make the case for creationist ideology in the American science curriculum?

  • Why have these arguments consistently failed to move American public education policy and the law?

Method (I)

Document Analysis—given the controversial nature of the topic, an unobtrusive method of data collection was sought… Berg, 2001 (p. 189) identifies document analysis as a “particularly interesting and innovative strategy for collecting and assessing data… [which can] provide access to aspects of social settings and their inhabitants that are simply unreachable through any other means.”

Document Selection—documentation will be selected from major U.S. Supreme Court rulings, based on relevance to research questions. This requires interpretation via simultaneous engagement with data collection and analysis (Charmaz, 2006; Dey 2004). On-going cases will not be considered until finalisedthrough courts of appeal or the Supreme Court as applicable.

Method (II)

Validating Document Selection— Triangulation of document selection with databases held by the NCSE and online court archives (for example), can indicate precedent-setting cases, and provide a freedom of access to documentation that can sometimes pose a challenge to research (Yin, 1994).

Answering the Research Questions—The process of document analysis can answer both research questions, by extracting and analyzing the arguments used to make the case for creationist ideology (research question 1), and judicial reasoning for their failure to move U.S. legal opinion and thus overt, documented education policy (research question 2). Cross-examination of expert witness testimony, under oath, enhances clarity and validity of discourse.

Method (III)

Ethics—All selected documentation is a part of public record and openly available, ethical considerations with regard to collecting data from human subjects, would therefore not be applicable.

Theoretical Framework (I)

Hermeneutic Analysis—will provide the structure to investigate creationist belief—as proposed by Christian advocates—via a product (documentation), which makes it possible to interpret its meanings. A hermeneutic analysis is extremely pertinent with regard to arguments for including creationist doctrine in the American science curriculum, based as they are in the cultural perspective of a belief system. Hermeneutics thereby provides the theoretical framework for “interpretive understanding, or meaning, with special attention to context and original purpose.” (Patton, 2002, p. 114). Such a framework effectively addresses the central theme of both research questions.

Theoretical Framework (II)

Context and Content Analysis—Based on the description of the analysis, by Miller and Alvarado (2005), of document content and the context in which it was created. Testimony will mostly be analysed for what is discussed (content analytic), whilst judicial opinion may be more relevant in terms of commentary (context analytic).

Documents as Actors (a Context Analytic Approach)—outlining the production and operation of policy has been discussed by Prior (2003) and Miller (1997). Relating to judicial opinion, the action of the selected documentation on U.S. public education policy and law will be of specific relevance to the research question, “why have creationist arguments consistently failed to move American public education policy and the law?”

Data Handling and Analysis (I)

Data Handling and Analysis—Documentation will be read and re-read, before data is coded using qualitative data analysis (QDA) software such as ATLAS.ti, Provalis Research QDAMiner or QSR Software NVivo. Yet to be fully evaluated.

Sorted into Themes— Data will be sorted in to themes, containing textual categories and sub-categories which fit the data, based on pre-judged criteria relevant to research questions (deductive analysis), and patterns which may emerge from multiple readings and interpretations of documentation (inductive analysis), e.g., conceptual categories such as methodological naturalism(see handout), and sub-categories of either rejection or acceptance as empirical science.

Reliability and Trustworthiness (I)

Data Handling and Analysis—Consistent application of methodology, throughout the analysis of all documentation, is both an enhancement of validity in data collection and a challenge. A thorough log of data analysis, in a suitable reflex journal, is therefore required.

Trustworthiness—Triangulating data with multiple, peer-reviewed sources of definition, or explanation of terms used, will help ensure “a confluence of evidence that breeds credibility” (Eisner, 1991, p. 110).

Reflex journal—An organised record of reasoning, methodological activities, interim results and conclusions—may provide documented justification for reasonable modification of research problems and strategies, according to any dynamic variables of the study (McMillan and Schumacher, 2009).

Reliability and Trustworthiness (II)

Personal Bias—Completing an undergraduate degree in zoology as a behavioural ecologist, with considerable reading in evolutionary biology—under the supervision of the great great grandson of Charles Darwin—has resulted in my seat being firmly on one side of the evolution vs. creationism debate.

I am an atheist, who fervently believes that any given subject should be understood to the best of our current abilities, before accepting or rejecting its theories and developing them in the field of education for the uptake by future generations.

Once again a personal reflex journal of research activities will help to make the process transparent and clarify actions based on this opinion.

Thanks for Listening

A copy of this presentation, my draft research proposal, a full list of all references used in this presentation and the accompanying handout, plus any supporting documentation or media, is available on my personal web site, at the following address…


For any further information, please don’t hesitate to contact me…

[email protected]

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