Undergraduate Misconceptions of Evolutionary Principles: A Comparative Study
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The theory of evolution and its role in the origin of human beings is a highly controversial and polarizing topic in the United States. More so, how evolution is taught in high schools is a hot topic of debate between school board members, parents, scientists, and science advocates. Historically, Texas Board of Education has repeatedly had issues regarding how much time the curriculum allots for evolution as well as controversial wording on how evolution should be explained to students. While it is unconstitutional to teach creationism in public schools, the lack of clear evolution education has allowed high school students to adopt misconceptions regarding evolution and the nature of science. These misconceptions can carry over to a student's undergraduate education, potentially making it more difficult for students to grasp biological concepts. In 2009, Drs. Deborah Cunningham and Daniel Wescott published a study on University of Missouri-Columbia undergraduates’ comprehension of evolution. They found that while most of the students surveyed supported the theory of evolution, they had a limited understanding of evolutionary concepts (Cunningham and Wescott 2009). In this research project, Dr. Cunningham and Wescott’s survey was recreated at Texas State University in San Marcos. The survey was administered at the beginning of the 2019 Fall semester to a Biological Anthropology class. It was found that participants’ level of understanding did not differ much from the results found in 2009. While most participants reported understanding and supporting evolutionary theory, several notable misconceptions within the class were discovered. In addition, students were asked to provide what high school they attended and to report if they were taught evolution in high school. The schools were then plotted for the analysis of geographical trends.