After this article first appeared in the Reports of the National Center for Science Education, Jason Wiles heard from several Arkansas educators, including Susan Epperson, the former Central High School teacher who was the plaintiff in a landmark 1968 court case about teaching evolution.
I wanted to say “thanks” to you for this article about all the difficulty teaching evolution in Arkansas. I was plaintiff in the 1968 Epperson v. Arkansas case and it looks like we didn’t do much good! I really feel for these teachers and administrators having to deal with the attitudes of folks who have been taught that scientists are atheists and not to be trusted. A crying shame.
The state Science Fair was in progress on the day of our first hearing in Chancery Court, April 1 (yes, that’s April 1) 1966. My husband, dad and I went over to look at exhibits during lunch break. I met one of my fellow graduates from The College (now University) of the Ozarks in Clarksville, who was teaching science somewhere in the state. He said, “I’m glad about what you are doing, and I support you, but, even if you win, it won’t make any difference in the district where I teach. If I taught it, I’d be fired.”
I really don’t have an easy answer. I can certainly sympathize with “Bob” and his bosses in wanting to keep a good science center going, so that students get at least some good science teaching. It seems that somehow, we science advocates who are also Christians need to emphasize there isn’t a dichotomy at all.
I congratulate Bob in his decision to work for better education in Arkansas. What a difficult situation for him. To me, one of the saddest things is that this furor distracts all of us, students as well, from the absolute joy of studying science and the natural world. To have these inhibitions takes away some of the fun!
I think this points out why we all need to be members of our professional organizations such as NSTA, American Biology Teachers Association, ASTA, AEA and others. I feel better knowing that I have the support of professional colleagues and the weight of their influence if I’m challenged to water down science teaching.
Oakdale Junior High
Your article addressed so many of the problems that Arkansas teachers have when they make any attempt to teach about evolution. I am not a teacher as of yet, but I am in my last year of pursuing a biology degree and secondary education certification. One of my instructors addressed teaching evolution and informed us early on in the class that the majority of the school districts in Arkansas aren’t going to allow it and there was nothing we could really do about it.
My biggest questions are: What good is the law allowing us to teach evolution if it cannot and will not be enforced? How is it that school districts are allowed to violate laws and not adhere to state benchmarks without being held accountable?
I am a proud Christian and have had no problem reconciling my faith with my understanding of science. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough open-minded people around “these here parts” and the majority of them think that science equals atheism. In all of the scientists I have met, I have yet to meet an atheist. I honestly don’t know how this all will ever be resolved, but something’s gotta give, as my grandmother would say.
Again, I was very impressed with your article. It was very poignant and well written. I will definitely be passing it along. Rest assured, my students will get the best possible science education I can give them and that will definitely include my teaching them evolution.
Senior biology student,
Henderson State University