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Webpaper #1: Stories of Evolution in the Classroom

cwalker's picture

Coral A. Walker

February 11, 2011


Dalke & Grobstein

Webpaper #1


Stories of Evolution in the Classroom

            Evolution and education has been a controversial topic since at least the 1920’s, and to this day, the question still stands: should evolution be included in high school lesson plans? Throughout this course we have analyzed evolution not as a fact, but rather a convincing story with wide-ranging perspectives. If this is the case, should only one version of the story be validated within the public high school classroom? Keeping in mind that evolution is being analyzed as a theory, students should have the opportunity to learn about the various theories and educators should allow the students to make individual educated conclusions on which story is the most valid.

Tennessee State vs. John Scopes dubbed “The Monkey Trial”, which took place in Dayton, Tennessee (Linder) in 1925, was an influential event that created much controversy. John Scopes, a young high school biology teacher, taught his students Darwin’s theory of evolution. His actions violated the Butler Act, passed earlier that year, which decreed the education of evolution of mankind as a misdemeanor in Tennessee public schools. After a long and tedious trial, John Scopes was found guilty, and evolution was left out of biology textbooks in the state of Tennessee. The trial made a clear indentation in the education of evolution in the years that followed. It had brought forth the discussion of a very controversial debate, modernists (evolution) versus traditionalists (fundamentalism). The Monkey Trial affected the education about evolution nationwide; after the trial, evolution was eradicated from all public school biology textbooks until 1960’s. It has been nearly a century since the first trial on the topic occurred, but the debate still stands strong, with a number of trials surfacing across the United States with varying verdicts.

Clearly the topic of education of evolution has been and will continue to not only be controversial, but also necessary and critical. From an anthropologist’s perspectives the real controversy stands not on which theory is real, but rather the concepts of beliefs. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Belief” is defined as: “(1) a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing, (2) something believed; especially: a tenet or body of tenets held by a group, (3) conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence” (“Belief”, Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Beliefs are the fundamental aspect of cultures and societies. Early anthropologists theorized that all cultures go through a the same horizontal evolutionary process, in which all cultures develop from primitive villages without culture into civilized society full of culture. These anthropologists, who were mostly colonizers, went around the world teaching primitive village about the civilized ways of life and eliminating the savage beliefs. Recent anthropologists have completely debunked this theory, but rather stated that all societies have culture and that they evolve in different patterns. They have made it clear that all cultures have a variety of fundamental beliefs, and one culture should not impose its beliefs upon another. Through the action of discrediting one belief and imposing another, an issue of control and power is created.

 In a democratic country, the basic idea is that all individuals should be given the opportunity to create their personal opinions and biases; this strategy should also be implemented within the classroom environment. If evolution is a story, then students should have the right to hear all sides of the story of evolution and create their individual conclusions of the topic; teaching only a fraction of the story of evolution is a form of indoctrination upon the student. As a democratic nation, the United States should demand that its public schools provide all sides to important issues, including evolution. As of 2005, the debate has not yet made it to a national level, but rather a state-by-state level. While most states require some sort of scientific evolution theory (more commonly Darwin’s theory) to be taught in public high school biology classes, many have included disclaimers stating that various theories exist on the subject, that these are theories and not facts, and most commonly that the theory of evolution is a controversial one and “should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered” (Farden, Boyle, & Godoy, 2005). Although many of these disclaimers exist do to biases, they create the fair point that there are a variety of evolution theories and none of them are fact. However, just because they are not fact does not mean that they should be left out of the classroom as a counter-argument to another theory: intelligent design.  

One of the most important reasons to teach the theories of evolution and intelligent design is so that people can create a personal perspective on the topic. Students should have the chance to do the same; by being taught a variety of stories they are able to learn from them, use the aspects they find valid, and make them useful. By creating questions and interest,a snowball effect is created allowing for questions to arise, therefore creating more valid theories. Having all the versions of the stories present in education, allow for an evolutionary process of education. Questions about conflicting theories of evolution are more likely to arise in the process of learning the different perspectives of the evolution theory, which will enhance the students’ knowledge. With students discussing various theories, more questions will be formed which creates a snowball effect: as one question is answered, more questions arise. According to many educators, creating curiosity about the subject and formulating personal opinions and interests is the best and most effective way to learn.

 The story of evolution is a fundamental belief for every culture which is then transcribed onto every individual. Fundamental beliefs should neither be forcefully (they use force?) validated nor discredited. From a democratic standpoint, individuals should agree that all beliefs, should not only be respected, but also represented. If educators choose to teach one theory rather than another, they have unfairly representing the belief to their students because they have not allowed their students to make their own opinions by hearing all sides of the story. Educators should make it clear to students that a variety of theories exists and that many questions persists in all of the theories, and that by understanding all of the theories, each individual has the opportunity to formulate and validate his/her own personal belief in evolution. Teachers could focus on the history of evolution and the different perspectives of the story, and showing the evolution of the story of evolution. If the United States prides itself on being the example of accepting and encouraging personal belief, we cannot be depriving our youth in public schools the entire belief of evolution.


Works Cited 

"Belief." Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online. Merriam-Webster. Web. 06 Feb. 2011. <>.

Boyle, Tara, Vicki Farden, and Maria Godoy. "Teaching Evolution: A State-by-State Debate : NPR." NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. 20 Dec. 2005. Web. 04 Feb. 2011. <>.

Chuang, Helen C. "Teaching Evolution: Attitudes & Strategies of Educators in Utah." The American Biology Teacher 65.9 (2003): 669-74. BioOne Research Evolved. National Association of Biology Teachers. Web. 04 Feb. 2011. <>.

Grobstein, Paul. "Intelligent Design and the Story of Evolution: No Need for Drawing Lines in the Sand." Serendip. 04 Sept. 2005. Web. 06 Feb. 2011. </biology/evolution/grobstein.html>.

Linder, Douglas O. "An Introduction to the John Scopes (Monkey) Trial." UMKC School of Law. Web. 05 Feb. 2011. <>.

Rennie, John. "Teachers Fail Evolution Education." Review. Audio blog post. Scientific American. Scientific American, 28 Jan. 2011. Web. 4 Feb. 2011. <>.


Paul Grobstein's picture

education as evolution: problems?

 "Having all the versions of the stories present in education, allow for an evolutionary process of education"

An appealing perspective for thinking about the issue of teaching evolution, for me at least.  Would you though be willing to generalize the perspective?  Multiple stories about mathematics?  history?  literature?  And how would this intersect with "belief"?  What role should education play in promoting or challenging "fundamental aspects of cultures and societies"?  in challenging "personal belief"?