Tag Archives: Education

November 12, 1968 (a Tuesday)

Church/State sign.

On this date, Susan Epperson et al v. Arkansas was decided.  The U.S. Supreme Court found that Arkansas’ law prohibiting the teaching of evolution was unconstitutional because the motivation was based on a literal reading of Genesis, not science.

November 6, 1990 (a Tuesday)

Church/State sign.

On this date, Webster v. New Lenox was decided.  The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that school boards have the right to prohibit teaching creationism because such lessons would constitute religious advocacy.

October 4, 4004 B.C.E. (a Monday)

*The Creation of Adam* by Michelangelogo

On this date, the Earth was created by God, according to an Irish theologian, Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher [or Usher] (1581-1656), in his Chronologies of the Old and New Testaments, which was first published 1650-1654. Ussher arrived at his conclusion by carefully counting the “begats” in the Bible. His contemporary, Sir John Lightfoot (1602-1675), Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, arrived at the same date through independent calculation and added the detail that the world began at 9:00 AM Greenwich Meridian Time (GMT), or midnight Garden-of-Eden time.

Needless to say, modern scientific research has discovered that the Earth is, in fact, much, much, older.

September 18, 1894 (a Tuesday)

Education

On this date, the trial committee in the case of Professor Richard T. Ely submitted its final report to the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin. The report, unanimously adopted, exonerated Ely, and heralded the board’s devotion to academic freedom:

As Regents of a university with over a hundred instructors supported by nearly two millions of people who hold a vast diversity of views regarding the great questions which at present agitate the human mind, we could not for a moment think of recommending the dismissal or even the criticism of a teacher even if some of his opinions should, in some quarters, be regarded as visionary. Such a course would be equivalent to saying that no professor should teach anything which is not accepted by everybody as true. This would cut our curriculum down to very small proportions. We cannot for a moment believe that knowledge has reached its final goal, or that the present condition of society is perfect. We must therefore welcome from our teachers such discussions as shall suggest the means and prepare the way by which knowledge may be extended, present evils be removed and others prevented. We feel that we would be unworthy of the position we hold if we did not believe in progress in all departments of knowledge. In all lines of academic investigation it is of the utmost importance that the investigator should be absolutely free to follow the indications of truth wherever they may lead. Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.

A plaque at Bascom Hill at the University of Wisconsin

The outcome of the Ely trial, and especially the proclamation of academic freedom, were given wide publicity by the press. Despite occasional periods of turmoil in the subsequent history of the University of Wisconsin, the declaration was never officially repudiated. Notably, when the Wisconsin Class of 1910 voted to present to the University a plaque bearing the last sentence of the regents’ statement, the regents accused the Class of being influenced by radicals and of joining with them in attacking regent policies. Five years later the plaque was accepted and placed at the entrance of the main university building.

Years later Richard T. Ely could pridefully refer to the Regents’ report as:

…that famous pronunciamento of academic freedom which has been a beacon light in higher education in this country, not only for Wisconsin, but for all similar institutions, from that day to this. Their declaration on behalf of academic freedom … has come to be regarded as part of the Wisconsin Magna Charta …

September 10, 1941 (a Wednesday)

"The main reason I write is that the world is very complicated, and when I write I learn," said Gould.

On this date, American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and science writer Stephen Jay Gould was born. Gould, who grew up in New York City, graduated from Antioch College in 1963 and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1967. He was immediately hired by Harvard University, where he worked until the end of his life. Harvard promoted him to Professor of Geology and Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the institution’s Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1973 and to Professor of Zoology in 1982. Gould also worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He was awarded fellowship in the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1983, where he later served as president (1999-2001), and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1989. He also served as president of the Paleontological Society (1985-1986) and the Society for the Study of Evolution (1990-1991).

Gould is one of the most highly cited scientists in the field of evolutionary theory. The paper entitled “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm” (1979) that he co-authored with Richard Lewontin has been cited more than 1,600 times. In Palaeobiology—the flagship journal of his own speciality—only Charles Darwin and George Gaylord Simpson have been cited more often. Gould was also a considerably respected historian of science. Historian Ronald Numbers has been quoted as saying: “I can’t say much about Gould’s strengths as a scientist, but for a long time I’ve regarded him as the second most influential historian of science (next to Thomas Kuhn).”

Perhaps more than any other contemporary American scientist, Stephen Jay Gould committed himself to communicating the goals, processes, and achievements of science to a wide audience. His high visibility, distinctive critical voice, and marked enthusiasm for making science accessible to the general public led him to contribute to debates surrounding creationism, evolutionary psychology, and biological determinations of race and intelligence. Gould wrote popular science essays in Natural History magazine and best-selling books on evolution. Many of his essays were reprinted in collected volumes, such as Ever Since Darwin and The Panda’s Thumb, while his popular treatises included books such as The Mismeasure of Man, Wonderful Life, Rocks of Ages, and Full House.  His work won many awards, including the National Book Award.

September 3, 1907 (a Tuesday)

Loren Corey Eiseley

On this date, the highly respected anthropologist, ecologist, science writer, and poet Loren Corey Eiseley was born. He published books of essays, biography, and general science in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s.

Eiseley is best known for the poetic essay style called the “hidden essay”. He used this to explain complex scientific ideas, such as human evolution, to the general public. He is also known for his writings about humanity’s relationship with the natural world. These helped inspire the environmental movement.

Eiseley’s first book, The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature (1946), a collection of writings about the history of humanity, established him as a writer with the unique ability to combine science and humanism. In the essay from it entitled “The Snout”, he wrote:

The door to the past is a strange door. It swings open and things pass through it, but they pass in one direction only. No man can return across that threshold, though he can look down still and see the green light waver in the water weeds.

Eiseley’s book, Darwin’s Century (1958), focuses on the development of the theory of evolution and was awarded the Phi Beta Kappa Science prize in 1959. His other books include The Unexpected Universe (1969), The Night Country (1971), the memoir All The Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life (1975), and Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X: New Light on the Evolutionists (1979).

When Loren Eiseley was 3 his father held him up to watch Halley’s Comet blaze across the sky and told his son to look for its return in 75 years. But Loren Eiseley did not live that long. He died July 9, 1977, having used his brief seventy years to leave behind a heritage that continues to enrich the lives of all who come to know his work.

August 25, 1609 (a Tuesday)

Bell Tower in St. Mark’s Square

On this date, the Italian mathematician Galileo Galilei marched the Doge of Venice (Leonardo Donato), his counsellor, the Chiefs of the Council of Ten, and the Sages of the Order, who commanded the Venetian navy, up the Bell Tower (Campanile) in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy. Once at the top, Galileo showed them views of distant cities, ships on the horizon, and parishioners entering a church on the island of Murano – all of which had been invisible to the eye alone – with the aid of his first telescope. The Doge was awestruck. The military had a powerful new secret weapon. Venice was confirmed again as a triumph. Galileo presented the Doge with the telescope on his knees and received a doubled salary, a lifetime appointment, and a bonus amounting to a year’s wages.

Throughout the the rest of 1609, particularly during the winter, Galileo made many astronomical studies. On January 7, 1610 Galileo observed with his telescope what he described at the time as “three fixed stars, totally invisible by their smallness,” all close to Jupiter, and lying on a straight line through it. Observations on subsequent nights showed that the positions of these “stars” relative to Jupiter were changing in a way that would have been inexplicable if they had really been fixed stars. On January 10 Galileo noted that one of them had disappeared, an observation which he attributed to its being hidden behind Jupiter. Within a few days he concluded that they were orbiting Jupiter. He had discovered three of Jupiter’s four largest satellites (moons): Io, Europa, and Callisto. He discovered the fourth, Ganymede, on January 13. Galileo named the four satellites he had discovered Medicean stars, in honor of his future patron, Cosimo II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Cosimo’s three brothers. [Later astronomers, however, renamed them the Galilean satellites in honor of Galileo himself.] On March 12, 1610 Galileo published the results of his studies in a brief treatise entitled Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger).

These observations over a six night period, from January 7 through January 13, provided a view to Galileo that revealed that perhaps not everything orbited the Earth (geocentric model), as Ptolemy as well as the Catholic Church had adopted. And, if these small, but bright points of light went around Jupiter and not the Earth, perhaps there were other objects that did not orbit the Earth. His findings allowed him to confirm the Sun-centered theory of Copernicus. This short period of time from the summer of 1609 through to March of 1610, when Siderius Nuncius was published, had a revolutionary impact on astronomy almost overnight and it catapulted Galileo into the scientific spotlight and into the fire and wrath of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church condemned Galileo for his theories on June 22, 1633. He was forced to disown them and to live on his own for the rest of his life. In the following century the Vatican began changing its attitude. A mausoleum was built in 1734 to honor him. In 1822 Pope Pius VII gave permission for Galileo’s theory to be taught in schools. In 1968 Pope Paul VI had the trial against Galileo reassessed, then Pope John Paul II took the final step in the Church’s rehabilitation of the scientist in 1984 when he formally acknowledged that the Catholic Church had erred when it condemned the Italian astronomer for maintaining that Earth revolved around the Sun.

July 26, 1925 (a Sunday)

William Jennings Bryan in a Dayton pulpit.

On this date, after eating an enormous dinner, William Jennings Bryan, prosecutor in the Scopes Monkey Trial, laid down to take a nap and died in his sleep. Bryan’s personal physician, Dr. J. Thomas Kelly, concluded, “Bryan died of diabetes melitis, the immediate cause being the fatigue incident to the heat and his extraordinary exertions due to the Scopes trial.” Clarence Darrow was hiking in the Smoky Mountains when word of Bryan’s death reached him. When reporters suggested to him that Bryan died of a broken heart, Darrow said, “Broken heart nothing; he died of a busted belly.” In a louder voice he added, “His death is a great loss to the American people.”

Bryan’s death triggered an outpouring of grief from the “common” Americans who felt they had lost their greatest champion. A special train carried him to his burial place in Arlington National Cemetery. Thousands of people lined the tracks. Historian Paul Boyer says, “Bryan’s death represented the end of an era. This man who had loomed so large in the American political and cultural landscape for thirty years had now passed from the scene.”

July 21, 1925 (a Tuesday)

Darrow addressing the jury and courtroom spectators.

On this date, the eighth day of the Scopes Monkey Trial began. Before the jury was called to the courtroom, Darrow addressed Judge Raulston, “I think to save time, we will ask the court to bring in the jury and instruct the jury to find the defendant guilty.” This ensured that the defense could appeal the case to a higher court, which might rule the Butler Act unconstitutional. The defense also waived its right to a final address, which, under Tennessee law, deprived the prosecution of a closing statement. This greatly disappointed Bryan, who was unable to deliver a grandiloquent closing speech he had labored over for weeks [archived here].

John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution and sentenced to a fine of $100.  After the verdict was read, Scopes delivered his only statement of the trial, declaring his intent “to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my ideal of academic freedom — that is, to teach the truth as guaranteed in our constitution, of personal and religious freedom.”  The trial came to an anticlimactic end.

References:

  • John Thomas Scopes, William Jennings Bryan, and Rhea County Court. The world’s most famous court trial: Tennessee evolution case (Cincinnati: National Book Co., 1925).

July 20, 1925 (a Monday)

William Jennings Bryan (seated at left) being questioned by Clarence Darrow (standing at right).

On this date in the Scopes Monkey Trial, assistant defense attorney Arthur Hays rose to summon one more witness – William Jennings Bryan – as an expert on the Bible. Malone, another attorney on the defense team, whispered to John Scopes, “Hell is going to pop now.” Calling Bryan was a highly unusual move, but Bryan agreed with some enthusiasm, stipulating only that he should have a chance to interrogate the defense lawyers. During his examination, Bryan stated his reason for testifying: “These gentlemen…did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it and they can ask me any question they please.” Judge Raulston, concerned that the crowd massing to watch this clash of legal titans would prove injurious to the courthouse, ordered that the trial reconvene on the adjacent lawn.

Darrow examined Bryan for almost two hours, all but ignoring the specific case against Scopes while doing his best to undermine a literalist interpretation of the Bible. After initially contending that “everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there,” Bryan conceded that the words of the Bible should not always be taken literally. “[S]ome of the Bible is given illustratively,” he observed. “For instance: `Ye are the salt of the earth.’ I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God’s people.” Although Bryan believed the story of a big fish swallowing Jonah, Joshua making the sun stand still, and other miracles, he conceded that the six days of creation, as described in Genesis, were not literally twenty-four hour days but were probably periods of time lasting many years.

Fundamentalists in the audience listened with increasing discomfort as their champion questioned Biblical “truths,” and Bryan slowly came to realize that he had stepped into a trap. At one point, the frustrated Bryan said, “I do not think about things I don’t think about.” Darrow asked, “Do you think about the things you do think about?” Bryan responded, to the derisive laughter of spectators, “Well, sometimes.” It was an embarrassing and bleak moment in what had been Bryan’s brilliant career.

July 19, 1925 (a Sunday)

Rev. Byrd (left) and Rev. Potter (right), with Byrd's children John and Lillian, in front of the parsonage.

On this date, in the midst of the Scopes Monkey Trial, Rev. Howard Gale Byrd resigned as pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church North in Dayton, Tennessee when members of his congregation objected because a visiting minister, Rev. Charles Francis Potter of the West Side Unitarian Church in New York City, proposed to preach on the topic of evolution. Potter was adviser on the Bible to Clarence Darrow in his defense of John Scopes. He also gave the opening prayer one morning of the trial.

Raised in a pious evangelical Baptist family, Potter was a precocious boy who by the age of three was able to recite entire Bible passages from memory. Potter accepted a Baptist pastorate in Dover, New Hampshire, in 1908 and another in Mattapan, Massachusetts, in 1910. During Potter’s years as a Baptist preacher he began to question many of the orthodox Christian tenets with which he had been raised. He was increasingly influenced by liberal theological ideas, especially the “higher criticism” of the Bible. In 1914 frustration with Baptist church leaders who questioned his theological views led to his resignation from the Baptist ministry and conversion to Unitarianism.

In 1919 Potter was called to be minister of the West Side Unitarian Church in New York City, where he served from 1920-25. Under Potter’s stimulating leadership the West Side Unitarian Church became a focal point of liberal thought, activity and interpretation of the scriptures. Potter came to national attention in 1923-24 when he participated in a series of radio debates with the formidable fundamentalist Baptist pastor, Rev. John Roach Straton of the Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan. The debates at Carnegie Hall stirred public interest in the fundamentalist-modernist doctrinal questions that were circulating at the time. They were soon published in four volumes entitled The Battle Over the Bible, Evolution versus Creation, The Virgin Birth—Fact or Fiction?, and Was Christ Both Man and God?

July 17, 1925 (a Friday)

Judge Raulston delivers a ruling.

On this date, Judge John Raulston ruled in the Scopes Monkey Trial that the defense will not be allowed to present expert testimony on evolution or its consistency with Genesis:

This case is now before the court upon a motion by the [prosecution] to exclude from the consideration of the jury certain expert testimony offered by the defendant, the import of such testimony being an effort to explain the origin of man and life. The state insists that such evidence is wholly irrelevant, incompetent and impertinent to the issues pending, and that it should be excluded. Upon the other hand, the defendant insists that this evidence is highly competent and relevant to the issues involved, and should be admitted. . . . In the final analysis this court, after a most earnest and careful consideration, has reached the conclusions that under the provisions of the act involved in this case, it is made unlawful thereby to teach in the public schools of the state of Tennessee the theory that man descended from a lower order of animals. If the court is correct in this, then the evidence of experts would shed no light on the issues. Therefore, the court is content to sustain the motion of the [prosecution] to exclude the expert testimony.

Darrow was livid and accused Raulston of bias. “I do not understand,” said Darrow, “why every suggestion of the prosecution should meet with an endless waste of time, and a bare suggestion of anything that is perfectly competent on our part should be immediately overruled.” Raulston asked Darrow, “I hope you do not mean to reflect upon the court?” Darrow replied, “Well, your honor has the right to hope.” Raulston responded, “I have the right to do something else” and held Darrow in contempt of court. Darrow later apologized for his remark, prompting a big hand from spectators, and Raulston dropped the contempt citation. Darrow and Raulston shook hands.

After expressing concern that the courtroom floor might collapse from the weight of so many spectators, Raulston transferred the proceedings to the lawn outside the courthouse. There, the defense read into the record, for purpose of appellate review, excerpts from the prepared statements of eight scientists and four experts on religion who had been prepared to testify. The statements of the experts were widely reported by the press, helping Darrow succeed in his efforts to turn the trial into a national biology lesson.

July 16, 1925 (a Thursday)

John Thomas Scopes, June, 1925.

On this date, lawyers for both sides in the Scopes Monkey Trial debated the issue of whether the defense should be allowed to present expert witnesses. Mr. Darrow said:

We expect to show that [the Bible] isn’t in conflict with the theory of evolution. We expect to show what evolution is, and the interpretation of the Bible that prevails with men of intelligence who have studied it. [Metcalf] is an evolutionist who has shown amply that he knows his subject and is competent to speak, and we insist that a jury cannot decide this important question which means the final battle ground between science and religion—according to our friend here—without knowing both what evolution is and the interpretation of the story of creation.

The prosecution argued that such testimony was irrelevant to Scopes’ guilt or innocence under the statue. Assistant prosecutor Hicks said:

[W]hy admit these experts? Why admit them? It is not necessary. Why admit them? They invade the province of the jury…If they want to make a school down here in Tennessee to educate our poor ignorant people, let them establish a school out here; let them bring down their experts. The people of Tennesee do not object to that, but we do object to them making a school house or a teachers’ institute out of this court. Such procedure in Tennessee is unknown.

Dudley Field Malone countered for the defense, arguing in a thundering voice that the prosecution’s position was borne of the same ignorance “which made it possible for theologians…to bring Old Galilee to trial.” He concluded by saying:

There is never a duel with the truth. The truth always wins and we are not afraid of it. The truth is no coward. The truth does not need the law. The truth does not need the force of government. The truth does not need Mr. Bryan. The truth is imperishable, eternal and immortal and needs no human agency to support it. We are ready to tell the truth as we understand it and we do not fear all the truth that they can present as facts. We are ready. We are ready. We feel we stand with progress. We feel we stand with science. We feel we stand with intelligence. We feel we stand with fundamental freedom in America. We are not afraid. Where is the fear? We meet it, where is the fear? We defy it, we ask your honor to admit the evidence as a matter of correct law, as a matter of sound procedure and as a matter of justice to the defense in this case.

It was a powerful speech. Anti-evolution lawmaker John Washington Butler (who authored the statute Scopes was charged with violating) called it “the finest speech of the century.” Members of the press gave Malone a standing ovation and most courtroom spectators joined in the sustained applause.

July 15, 1925 (a Wednesday)

Drugstore owner Fred Robinson and his family with chimp Joe Mendi (second from left) sipping a Coca-Cola.

On this date, the prosecution in the Scopes Monkey Trial presented its case against the defendant, calling to the stand Rhea County School Superintendent Walter White, two of John Scopes’ students (Howard Morgan and Harry Shelton), and Fred Robinson, who was a drug store owner and head of the school board. When the time came for cross-examination, Darrow went on the offensive. White conceded that the textbook Scopes was accused of using – Hunter’s Civic Biology– was the official biology textbook of the state of Tennessee. The students admitted that learning Darwin’s theory of evolution from their football coach had in no way damaged their faith or their character. Robinson testified that he himself sold copies of the offending textbook in his drugstore where John Scopes had been arrested.

Towards the end of the day, the defense called its first witness, zoology professor Maynard Metcalf, to explain evolution and to prove that even devout Christians accepted evolution; he was not only an evolutionary biologist from Johns Hopkins University but also a Sunday school teacher at his congregational church. The prosecution argued that Metcalf’s scientific testimony was irrelevant, but Judge Raulston had not yet made up his mind so he excused the jurors while Metcalf was initially questioned.

As court ended that day, Bryan handed Darrow a small wooden monkey, a tiny memento of the trial.

July 14, 1925 (a Tuesday)

A trained chimpanzee named Joe Mendi performs for a group of school children outside the home of Mrs. F. Robinson.

On this date, lawyers in the Scopes Monkey Trial argued over whether it is appropriate for Judge Raulston to begin each court session with a prayer. Darrow stated, “I understand from the court himself that he has sometimes opened the court with prayer and sometimes not, and we took no exceptions on the first day, but seeing this is persisted in every session, and the nature of this case being one where it is claimed by the state that there is a conflict between science and religion, above all other cases there should be no part taken outside of the evidence in this case and no attempt by means of prayer or in any other way to influence the deliberation and consideration of the jury of the facts in this case.” Nevertheless, the judge overruled the objection.

An angry Judge Raulston appointed a committee to investigate who leaked to reporters the story that he would not grant the defense’s motion to quash the indictment on constitutional grounds.

"A Venerable Orang-outang", a caricature of Charles Darwin as an ape published in *The Hornet*, a satirical magazine on 22 March 1871.

Outside the courtroom, two chimpanzees and a strange appearing man who was called “the missing link” were brought today to Dayton and attracted large crowds. One of the chimpanzees — named Joe Mendi — wore a plaid suit, a brown fedora, and white spats, and entertained Dayton’s citizens by monkeying around on the courthouse lawn. Apparently, the stunt was designed to “prove” that it was not man who evolved from the anthropoid, but the anthropoid which devolved from man. Mr. Bryan’s eyes sparkled as he gazed at the chimpanzee. “Wonderful!” he said. “Wonderful!” The so-called missing link was Jo Viens, formerly of Burlington, Vermont where, it was said, he was once mascot for the Burlington Fire Department. He was 51 years old, of short stature with a receding forehead and a protruding jaw like that of a simian, and had a peculiar shuffling walk which was said to be like that of an anthropoid. Mr. Nye asserted he was an example of how men “may go down now even as he [mankind] went down ages ago into the anthropoid.”

July 13, 1925 (a Monday)

The judge (right) and jury.

On this date, the defense in the Scopes Monkey Trial argued that the indictment of John Scopes should be thrown out for violating either the United States or Tennessee constitutions. This was the heart of the defense strategy; the goal was not to obtain the acquittal of Scopes, but to have a higher court – preferably the U.S. Supreme Court – declare laws forbidding the teaching of evolution to be unconstitutional. As expected, Judge Raulston denied the defense motion.

Notably, it was today that Clarence Darrow made the following famous statement during the trial:

If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it to the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. Always it is feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lectures, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After while, your honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.

July 10, 1925 (a Friday)

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan during the trial.

On this date, the famous Scopes Monkey Trial began in Dayton, Tennessee with jury selection in the Rhea County Court House.

On 21 March 1925, Tennessee Governor Austin Peay had signed the Butler Act, making it illegal “to teach any theory that denies the story of divine creation as taught by the Bible and to teach instead that man was descended from a lower order of animals.” In May, the American Civil Liberties Union had announced that it was willing to offer its services to any teacher who challenged the constitutionality of the new Tennessee anti-evolution statute.

Local town leaders, realizing that a controversial trial would bring attention to Dayton and that the resulting publicity might thereby economically benefit the town, had recruited a local high school teacher, John Scopes, to stand trial under the Act. The 24-year-old Scopes was in his first job after graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1924. He taught algebra and physics, served as athletic coach, and occasionally substituted in biology classes at the Rhea County High School. The indictment identified the date of his teaching evolution as “the 24th day of April.”

Clarence Darrow, known as one of the best lawyers of his era, led the defense while William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic candidate for President and a populist, led the prosecution. The stage was set for one of the most famous trials in American history. For many Americans, this event marked the beginning of a re-examination of long-held religious beliefs and a growing acceptance of evolution and its implications for the place of humans on the planet.

More photos are available here.

What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?

Finland’s Pasi Sahlberg is one of the world’s leading experts on school reform and the author of the best-selling “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland?” In this piece he writes about whether the emphasis that American school reformers put on “teacher effectiveness” is really the best approach to improving student achievement.

What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?

Proceed with Caution: New Report Falls Short in Complex Task of Evaluating Teacher Education

Class Notes

A report by the National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ), released today, raises questions and offers judgments about selected teacher education programs in the US.  Although perhaps intended as a tool to guide program improvement and, ultimately, the quality of teaching in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, the report is deeply flawed and its findings need to be viewed with caution.

A few examples of the report’s errors are enough to cause concern.  First, the results are based on reviews of course requirements and course syllabi, which are not necessarily an accurate reflection of what is taught in teacher preparation programs; available literature on differences between intended and enacted curricula seems to have escaped NCTQ’s attention.  Furthermore, NCTQ does not link these proxy variables to observations of actual performance by teachers in elementary and secondary schools.   The NCTQ report relies heavily on intuition about these issues, but our…

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David Berliner on “A Nation at Risk”: Three Decades of Lies

Diane Ravitch's blog

Three Decades of Lies

We have endured 30 years of lies, half-truths, and myths. Bruce Biddle and I debunked many of these untruths in our book, The Manufactured Crisis, in 1995. But more falsehoods continue to surface all the time. The most recent nonsense was “U. S. Education Reform and National Security,” a report presented to us last year by Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice. A Nation at Riskhad us losing the political and economic races to the Soviet Union and Japan. Did we? No. Our economy took off, the Soviet political system collapsed, and Japan’s economy has retreated for two decades. So much for the predictions of A Nation at Risk.
NAR_Berliner (2).jpg
David C. Berliner

The newest version of this genre by Klein/Rice has us losing the military and economic races to China and others. But this odd couple seems to forget that militarily we spend…

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June 19, 1987 (a Friday)

Church/State sign.

On this date, Edwards v. Aguillard was decided. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court invalidated Louisiana’s “Creationism Act” because it violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

June 17, 1957 (a Monday)

Scales of Justice

On this date, Sweezy v. New Hampshire was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Background: On January 5, 1954, Paul M. Sweezy was summoned to appear before New Hampshire attorney general Louis C. Wyman for inquiries into Sweezy’s political associations. Under a 1951 New Hampshire statute, the state attorney general was authorized to investigate “subversive activities” and determine whether “subversive persons” were located within the state. Wyman was especially interested in information on members of the Progressive Party, an organization many politicians suspected of nurturing communism in the United States.

Sweezy said he was unaware of any violations of the statute. He further stated that he would not answer any questions impertinent to the inquiry under the legislation, and that he would not answer questions that seemed to infringe on his freedom of speech. Sweezy did answer numerous questions about himself, his views, and his activities, but he refused to answer questions about other people. In a later inquiry by the attorney general, Sweezy refused to comment about an article he had written and about a lecture he had delivered to a humanities class.

When Sweezy persisted in his refusal to talk about others and about his lecture, he was held in contempt of court and sent to the Merrimack County jail. The Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirmed the conviction, and Sweezy appealed.

Decision: The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction. The basis for the reversal was the New Hampshire statute’s improper grant of broad interrogation powers to the attorney general and its failure to afford sufficient criminal protections to an accused. The Court commented strongly upon the threat such a statute posed to academic freedom:

We believe that there unquestionably was an invasion of petitioner’s liberties in the areas of academic freedom and political expression — areas in which government should be extremely reticent to tread.

The essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self-evident. No one should underestimate the vital role in a democracy that is played by those who guide and train our youth. To impose any strait jacket upon the intellectual leaders in our colleges and universities would imperil the future of our Nation. No field of education is so thoroughly comprehended by man that new discoveries cannot yet be made. Particularly is that true in the social sciences, where few, if any, principles are accepted as absolutes. Scholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust. Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.

May 7, 1925 (a Thursday)

Church/State sign.

On this date, the highly orchestrated arrest (but not detention) of John T. Scopes took place. The Tennessee legislature had earlier passed the Butler Act, which declared:

… that it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

As a reaction to this, the American Civil Liberties Union had offered to defend anyone who so dared to teach evolution in Tennessee. Some local business owners in Dayton thought that their town might be able to get some easy publicity if they were able to come up with someone who they could say violated the Butler Act. Scopes had volunteered, and ultimately he was charged with teaching evolution to a high school class.

May 4, 1925 (a Monday)

George Rappleyea in June 1925

On this date, George Rappalyea, a 31-year-old transplanted New Yorker and local coal company manager, arrived at Fred Robinson’s drugstore in Dayton, Tennessee with a copy of a paper containing an American Civil Liberties Union announcement that it was willing to offer its services to anyone challenging the new Tennessee anti-evolution statute. Rappalyea, a modernist Methodist with contempt for the new law, argued to other town leaders that a trial would be a way of putting Dayton on the map. Listening to Rappalyea, the others – including School Superintendent Walter White – became convinced that publicity generated by a controversial trial might help their town, whose population had fallen from 3,000 in the 1890’s to 1,800 in 1925. Thus, the “Robinson’s drugstore conspiracy” to put Dayton, Tennessee on the map was put into motion.

The conspirators summoned John Scopes, a twenty-four-year old general science teacher and part-time football coach, to the drugstore. As Scopes later described the meeting, Rappalyea said, “John, we’ve been arguing and I said nobody could teach biology without teaching evolution.” Scopes agreed. “That’s right,” he said, pulling a copy of Hunter’s Civic Biology – the state-approved textbook – from one of the shelves of the drugstore (the store also sold school textbooks). “You’ve been teaching ’em this book?” Rappalyea asked. Scopes replied that while filling in for the regular biology teacher during an illness, he had assigned readings on evolution from the book for review purposes. “Then you’ve been violating the law,” Rappalyea concluded. “Would you be willing to stand for a test case?” he asked. Scopes agreed. He later explained his decision: “The best time to scotch the snake is when it starts to wiggle.”

April 26, 1983 (a Tuesday)

The faked education crisis.

On 26 April 1983, in a White House ceremony, Ronald Reagan took possession of A Nation At Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform. The product of nearly two years’ work by a blue-ribbon commission, it reported poor academic performance at nearly every level and warned that the education system was “being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity.”

A true Cold War document written in the hyperbole of the time, the opening paragraph begins:

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that under girds American prosperity, security, and civility. . . the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur — others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.

A Nation At Risk inaugurated a series of attacks on public schools. “That was the ‘rising tide’ we got engulfed with — the rising tide of negative reports,” said Paul Houston recently, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “It was an overstatement of the problem, and it led to sort of hysterical responses,” he says. For one, it took liberties with the link between economic development and overall education rates. Yes, the connection makes intuitive sense, he says — but when the dot-com boom made millionaires of ordinary Americans in the 1990s, “no one came to my office and thanked me.” A Nation at Risk also led to “a cottage industry of national reports by people saying how bad things are.”

In 1990, Admiral James Watkins, the Secretary of Energy, commissioned the Sandia Laboratories in New Mexico to document the decline in A Nation at Risk with actual data. When the systems scientists broke down the SAT test scores into subgroups they discovered contradictory data. While the overall average scores had declined between , the subgroups of students had increased due to a statistical anomaly known as “Simpson’s paradox“! The results of the so-called Sandia Report discredited much of A Nation At Risk.

Nevertheless, the Republican administration of Bush the First, finding it politically unacceptable, suppressed the report, which was never officially released. Education Week published an article on the Sandia report in 1991, but unlike A Nation at Risk, the Sandia Report critique received almost no attention. The report was finally published as “Perspectives on Education in America” in 1993 in the Journal of Educational Research, but was ignored by the mass media. This was no doubt due, in part, to the statistical illiteracy of most Americans.

The mindset among the American public that “public schools are broken” can trace its roots back to A Nation at Risk.

The mass hysteria sparked by A Nation At Risk has continued unabated for nearly three decades, fueled by politicians and Wall Street. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education released a report in 2008 entitled, A Nation Accountable: Twenty-five Years After A Nation at Risk, stating:

If we were “at risk” in 1983, we are at even greater risk now. The rising demands of our global economy, together with demographic shifts, require that we educate more students to higher levels than ever before. Yet, our education system is not keeping pace with these growing demands [emphasis added].

The US Department of Misinformation

It is more than a little ironic that the over-the-top rhetoric of A Nation at Risk has now spawned a testing craze that, in fact, puts the nation’s children, and thus our future, truly at risk.  The public school system in the United States is under assault today as never before, but not by foreign powers — it is being destroyed by our own politicians and business tycoons.

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