I have often been asked how I can teach science in a religious school setting. I have also been asked by a few people if I teach evolution in a Catholic School. The answer is that I simply teach science and I actually have more freedom to talk with students about every aspect of science in a Catholic school. This amazes most people who ask.
In a public school you really do not have the freedom to bring up or to discuss any religious aspect of any subject because you have students of almost every religious denomination. When teaching in public schools I have had Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons, Baptists, Methodists, Muslims, and Jews. I have also taught students that do not either attend a church or may not even have an affiliation with any religion. You teach science in a public school and you stay with the scientific facts.
When I began teaching in the Catholic School setting I was amazed when I realized the freedom of what I could add to my science teaching. It is so nice to realize that the students themselves wanted to and would ask religious questions during science class. Do I have all of their answers? Of course not, but it is still so refreshing to be able to just discuss and to hear the different takes on religion in relation to science.
One question that is often asked by parents when they are thinking about putting their children into a Catholic school is whether evolution is taught in science. I myself do not teach evolution as an individual class or section but we do talk about evolution when the theory is brought to attention whether in books or in adding to the background of how this Earth has developed and changed from the beginning of time.
In college when I was taking all of my credits that were needed for my Biology degree, I had to take an Evolutionary Biology class. I walked in to class the first day with no idea of who was going to be the professor. I went to a state university that has no affiliation with any particular religion. We were all in our seats in wait of the professor and in walks a priest to teach Evolutionary Biology. You could have heard a pin drop in that class of maybe 200 students. The wheels of our minds were processing what we were seeing and thinking. Everyone in class, while taken aback, listened as the professor introduced himself and then he immediately answered what we were all thinking. How was a priest going to teach us about evolution? He answered our unvocalized question with this response, “If God created everything then how could he have not created evolution?” We all thought about this for a second and then went on to our first lecture and the expectations of the class. I do not remember anyone ever in that class bringing up the professor’s belief in his statement or that evolution cannot be proven. We were given the facts and theories of evolution and we were left to believe what we could take out of what was taught.
Since I have begun to teach in the Catholic schools I have also asked two of the three priests that I have worked with about their feelings of evolution being included in the science discussion. I have relayed what my professor stated and believed and both priests totally agree and have told me that explaining evolution like that is perfect.
I teach Life Science to 7th grade students and this is the science in which the evolution talk usually gets the most attention. It is also talked about a bit when I teach Astronomy and Earth Science but lets talk Life Science first.
We start Life Science by learning about cell structure and then we move on to DNA. We throw in genetics and then we finally get to learn about the Animal Kingdom. We start with the Phylum Porifera, the Sponges, which are the lowest animals in the multicellular animal groups. We move on to the coral and the starfish and we keep moving onto and learning about the phylums of animals as they naturally get more advanced in their anatomical structure. If you ever want to be amazed, take a class on Animal classification, throw in a class about fossils and you tell me that evolution has not taken place on this Earth. Explain and show the connections of the animal’s anatomical and knowledge accomplishments to eleven and twelve year olds and they are dumbfounded by the connections and progression of how animals evolve through the phylums. They see these connections between animals and they now can question the theory of evolution.
Do I tell them that evolution and everything that is written is exactly correct? No, of course I don’t. I want them to think for themselves and I want them to have the ability to take this information and if it interests them then they can learn more about it on their own. Every year a student will ask about religion and evolution and I tell them my college story. They also stop to think about that and usually agree, yep, if God created everything, then why not the science of evolution?
In 6th grade I teach Earth Science and we look at the Geologic timeline. We then focus on the part of the timeline that contains the dinosaurs. We learn that no fossil remains of people have ever been found to coincide with dinosaurs so man was not existent on Earth when these giant animals ruled the Earth. I ask them that no evidence has been found but I give them the loop hole that maybe no one simply has found the evidence of man at this time. Maybe their bones were too small to fossilize because of the conditions on Earth at that time in the Earth’s history? Hey I am not a archeologist so I tell them that sometimes in science and in the teachings of the Bible itself, stories are written and because there were no cameras or recording devises we may never know the true story of how man came to be and at what time he and she where put on this Earth.
I also teach Astronomy to 6th grade. This has to be the hardest science to teach at the middle school level. We do not have telescopes, we cannot take field trips to space, and some of the material is so beyond my comprehension of how astronomers have calculated astronomical information that I simply tell the student’s that some of the space information is out of this world to me! We look at each planet and then I scare them a little when I can show them the size of Earth compared to the rest of the Milky Way Galaxy using my handy Ipad application which allows me to zoom in to Earth and then to zoom out into our galaxy. We are a mere pinpoint in a sea of stars surrounding our sun.
We focus on Mars and what we can look at online from all of the pictures that have been taken from all of the rovers that NASA has sent to the red planet. I tell them that maybe humans started living on Mars and then the water supply was lost and we then had to move on to Earth. Maybe WE are the Martians. I bring this up only to get them to start wondering about what is out there in that vast universe. Are we the only beings that have been created by a higher being? I just like to get them to think. I explain that I do not mean to scare them, and believe me they tell me not to, but I want them to realize that we still do not have all of the scientific and even religious questions answered. Will we ever? As an adult I still have questions when I start thinking about everything that is out there in that gigantic universe that we live in.
I like to have fun in class with the students. Learning is always a lot more entertaining and comfortable when you have a class that is enjoying and truly thinking about what is being taught to them. I sometimes will get into a mode while teaching where I ask the students if God makes mistakes like all of us? The kids will think about it and usually they will say that they think that God is perfect and does not make mistakes. I then tell them my rendition of the mistakes that God has made. I tell them that he created the Earth and he first put all the land structures as one floating landmass in a gigantic sea, he left them like that for a while and then decided to move these land pieces and position them as continents. He next put gigantic beasts and plants on this Earth and then decided that a smaller sized life form would be better. He sent an asteroid down to Earth and started all over with smaller animal and plant sizing. He made man and women and positioned them on Earth until he saw that they were not listening to his teachings so he sent a giant flood to wipe those beings away and he once again started over. So God has made mistakes, he corrects his works and moves on to designing the Earth that he desires. People always ask why God allows tornadoes, volcanoes, tidal waves, wars, and so on in this world? Maybe he has made the weather to test our knowledge of how to live through such weather, maybe he has allowed some men to start wars so the rest of us can battle through such times to allow our goodness to win through such tragedy. We as humans make mistakes, maybe God wants us to know that even he works to better his intentions and creations here on Earth. I have these thoughts and we talk about them in class. I know and tell the students that I have made up this theory but who is to say who on this Earth is correct or if we will ever know how God wants us to evolve in his world that he has created for all of us?
I love teaching science with the freedom to add religious bits to enhance all of the scientific facts that middle school students are intended to learn. There is one rule that I do not allow though in respect to religious addition to the science curriculum. When taking a test in any of my science classes, they are not allowed to answer, “because God made it” to any question that they are answering! They can convince me of an answer if they describe and prove their answer with facts that we have discussed in class but God is not always the answer when you are answering questions for a science test. Yes, God is the answer to most things, but he is not the answer when I ask how many planets are terrestrial and how do they know this? There is always one student that fills in the answer that is unknown to them with because God said so or with because God made everything but it still gets a check mark through it! So sorry!:)