OCCASIONALLY, an educational battle will dominate national headlines. More commonly, the battling goes on locally, behind closed doors, handled so discreetly that even a teacher working a few classrooms away might not know. This was the case for Pat New, 62, a respected, veteran middle school science teacher, who, a year ago, quietly stood up for her right to teach evolution in this rural northern Georgia community, and prevailed.
She would not discuss the conflict while still teaching, because Ms. New wouldn’t let anything disrupt her classroom. But she has decided to retire, a year earlier than planned. “This evolution thing was a lot of stress,” she said. And a few weeks ago, on the very last day of her 29-year career, at 3:15, when Lumpkin County Middle School had emptied for the summer, and she had taken down her longest poster from Room D11A — the 15-billion-year timeline ranging from the Big Bang to the evolution of man — she recounted one teacher’s discreet battle.
She appears to be an excellent teacher, covering every unit in biology within an evolutionary context. She prevailed only because Georgia science standards explicitely endorse teaching of evolution. Her supervisors were not supportive, though, until she threatened to sue, at which point they suddenly turned 180 degrees and were all sugar and spice. She only did it when she decided to retire anyway, though.