Curriculum and Education Article

Evolution: Education and Outreach

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 619-628

First online:

Cognitive Apartheid: On the Manner in Which High School Students Understand Evolution without Believing in Evolution

  • Ronald S. HermannAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences, Towson University Email author 

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High school science students are often unwilling to learn about evolution due to a perceived conflict with their religious beliefs. Other students are able to understand evolution despite the fact that they do not believe in evolution. According to Cobern (Sci Educ 80:579–610, 1996), students can wall off that which is believed from that which is not believed in a process he called cognitive apartheid. A mixed-methods study was conducted to determine the extent to which understanding of evolution differed among high school Advanced Placement science students who did and did not believe in evolution. Two students who demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of evolution despite their admonition that they do not believe in evolution were then interviewed. Eight themes emerged from the interview that provide insight into the views of students learning of evolution despite the fact that they do not believe in evolution. Based on these themes, several implications for the teaching of evolution are presented.


Evolution High school students Belief Understanding Cognitive apartheid