Teaching Creation, Evolution, Abortion
“I was planning to,” I responded. “I’ve been starting the school year with it for quite a while now. What’s the problem?”
“Some parents came to see me who are concerned about what you teach,” he said. “And I’d just as soon not have to deal with the controversy if I don’t have to.” He wouldn’t tell me who the parents were because they requested anonymity. I argued that it was worthwhile to begin the year by teaching students that Americans have different concepts of how everything began. That those fundamental differences in thinking tend to affect how they think about other issues in history, how they behave, and how they vote. I persuaded him that students were free to decide for themselves what they wanted to believe, and that I only wanted them to understand how people think.
With a long sigh he relented, and I went ahead with the unit. Later, he told me that he was getting heat from parents on both sides of the spectrum. Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t want their kids exposed to ideas about evolution, and secular-humanist parents objected to what they perceived as my creation bias. I’d been publishing columns in local newspapers and many were written from a conservative or Roman Catholic perspective; sometimes both.
Students would ask me during the unit what my view was. I said I would tell them at the end if they couldn’t figure it out before then. Most couldn’t, and when we were done I told them that I didn’t see evolution and creation as mutually exclusive, that I borrowed from each to construct my personal view.
About eighteen years ago, another former principal invited me to her office to introduce herself. Placed prominently, so that it was the first thing to be seen by anyone sitting there, was a sign proclaiming: “Scientists discovered something to do the work of ten men: One woman.” She sat in her long, loose-fitting dress and large, brightly-colored, shawl-like scarf with the end thrown over one shoulder - a uniform I’ve associated with radical feminists ever since. I leaned forward to read the sign. I said, “Hmm,” and then sat back. She paused, as if waiting for a comment. I didn’t make one.
Later, she visited me in my classroom to question what I was teaching. It was my habit during those years to conduct at least one debate in each US History class. Students would brainstorm topics and then choose one by majority vote. Three classes chose abortion that year. She told me she was concerned about the debates and I asked her why. She said fourteen-year-olds were too young to discuss such a controversial and delicate subject. I told her it was their overwhelming choice in two classes (others chose gun control). Again, she said they weren’t sophisticated enough.
“That’s curious,” I said. “They’re old enough to have abortions, right?”
She didn’t answer.
“Some girls in this school quite possibly have abortions you know.”
“I know that,” she said.
“So you’re suggesting that it’s okay for them to have abortions, but not to debate them?”
Again, she didn’t answer. She was called away at that point to handle another matter and I went ahead with the debates. Parents had been invited and students conducted themselves quite well. Each side presented the classic arguments we hear whenever this issue is debated and students made up their own minds at the end.
These topics have been controversial for a long time. In 1925, for example, Tennessee passed a law outlawing the teaching of evolution. A high school science teacher was charged with violating the law and he was defended by the most famous trial lawyer of the time. The prosecutor was a three-time presidential candidate and Secretary of State. The trial was dramatized the classic movie “Inherit The Wind.” Clearly, some creationists were intolerant of conflicting views at the time.
Last month (in 2005), after a local school board in Georgia put stickers in high school biology texts advising students that evolution is “a theory, not a fact,” a federal judge ordered it removed. The school board is appealing. Clearly, some evolutionists are intolerant of conflicting views today.
Intolerant creationists think evolutionists are damned. Intolerant evolutionists think creationists are dumb. Strict creationists believe God created everything and life has a divine purpose, so it logically follows that they tend to believe abortion is murder of a person created by God. Strict evolutionists believe everything happened by chance and doesn’t necessarily have a purpose; it just is. It’s easy to understand why many tend to believe abortion just removes a lump of cells with no particular significance except that it would be problematic in some way if it continued growing.
Both sides can be intolerant, but does that mean we shouldn’t debate? Quite the contrary. If we’re going to understand and live with our fellow citizens in these United States, it’s essential. How else can we function in the constitutional republic our founding fathers designed?
First published in February, 2005