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Evolution’s Lonely Battle in a Georgia Classroom:

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.

Now imagine if the state did not have those standards, which almost happened…. Read the rest


  1. #1 Sander
    July 3, 2006

    Interesting article. While teachers should teach what they think is right and certainly, in a public school, what the standards of the state require, parents have a right to question what is taught.

    Here’s where I think Ms. New went wrong. When confronted with a question of science anyone, especially a teacher, should respond with science. Ms. New should have encouraged her students and their parents to explore the issue together. Therefore, making the issue just another opportunity to learn science. If she could not back up what she was teaching with a lot of evidence (papers on research and such), she probably shouldn’t be teaching it.

    Science classes should encourage students to question everything. They should also encourage research and experimentation. For example, in physics when teaching Newton’s theories students should have opportunities to prove to themselves, by experimentation, that the formulas are correct. If a theory can’t be proven, it shouldn’t be taught as a theory, instead it should be taught as the hypothesis that is currently believed by a majority of the scientific community and the reasons for such belief should be presented.

  2. #2 coturnix
    July 3, 2006

    “Hypothesis that is currently believed by a majority of the scientific community” is the definition of theory in science, and as such, evolution is the best supported theory of all science. No other theory – relativity, gravity, plate tectonics, etc. – has such a mountain of evidence supporting it.

    Some aspects of science, especially primitive ones like Newtons’ laws, are easily tested in cheap classroom experiments. Others are too complex, too expensive, or take too much time to be feasible. The fundies on the board were most definitely not interested in evidence, nor are they capable of reading and understanding scientific papers. They would have to read millions of papers anyway.

    This battle is cultural, not scientific, and she approached it properly, by battling it at the cultural level – invoking the law of the state.

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