The Education System: Part 1 – Evolution

Our meeting topic this week is the education system. This is a topic that was brought up in several meetings last quarter, so we’ve dedicated an entire conversation to it. Education is a very broad topic, so there are a lot of different facets that can be covered and several directions this conversation can go. As such, I thought it might be a good idea to break up this topic into a few different posts.

First up, evolution.

There is a common theory that Charles Darwin hesitated publishing his book On the Origin of Species because he feared the religious backlash. This might not be the case. He was busy writing other books and he talked about his theory of evolution openly without causing any outrage. However, the publication did result in international debate and has fundamentally altered biology and science in general.

Legal History

You’ve probably learned about evolution through Natural Selection in a high school biology class at some point, but even today that type of education is occasionally challenged by religious fundamentalists. Here is a very brief overview of the legal cases regarding the teaching of evolution (and creationism) in the United States.

  • Scopes Trial (1925) – Tennessee made it illegal to teach evolution. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.
  • Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) – Supreme Court case that ruled that bans on teaching evolution were unconstitutional.
  • Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) – Supreme Court case that prohibited the teaching of creationism in schools.
  • Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005) – A Pennsylvania District court case that ruled that Intelligent Design was not allowed to be taught in schools because of its religious connotations.

ArsTechnica has a great rundown of the history of the debate on creationism, from a few different perspectives. It gives a pretty thorough list of different factions and what they support (Young Earth Creationism, Day Age Creationism, Intelligent Design, etc.)

Current Standing

This is still a hotly debated topic, despite the overwhelming (and growing) evidence for evolution.

Just a few weeks ago, there was a debate between creationist Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, and science educator and TV personality Bill Nye. You can watch the full debate on Youtube.

If you are not aware, Texas is often a battleground for this debate because of the approval process for textbooks. Because of the size of Texas school districts, publishers basically get the books approved in Texas, and just use the same book in the rest of the country. And for this reason, their school boards elections are a bigger deal than most. The State Board of Education typically has a large bloc of Creationist members that offer recommendations to publishers to undermine the teaching of evolution.

However, recently the major textbook publishers ignored these recommendations and the Board approved them anyway (because they need textbooks), so there is some hope that this front of the debate will be less important in the future.

About 33% of adults in the US still reject the idea of humans evolving over time, according to the Pew Research Center’s latest survey. This is actually consistent with their findings in 2009.

So that’s more or less where things stand today. I’m sortof taking for granted that anyone reading this will already accept the theory of evolution. But I find it interesting how contentious this issue is even with the amount of evidence in favor of evolution, just because religion is involved. The only other topic that might cause as much controversy when mixing with education is probably politics.

Which will be covered in Part 2.

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