Take a moment and think about how far we have come in the last eighty years of education in the United States. The federal Department of Education has undergone dramatic changes and significantly increased its role in the education of US children, always striving toward its mission to "ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the Nation." And yet, today only about half of Americans think that humans did not live at the same time as dinosaurs, and only about seventy percent think the Earth goes around the Sun (from an NSF report "Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding" And to top it all off, we continue to put the teaching of evolution on trial. In 2001, 45% of Americans agree with the statement, "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so" (from the same NSF report). Some of these people are going to school boards and to courts to make sure that opinion is taught in science class. (Just a note: The US ranks 9th in average science scores of 8th grade students.)
The Scopes Monkey Trial was a defining moment for science and education - or so we thought. Slowly counties throughout the United States are legislating the teaching of creationism, now called Intelligent Design, back into education. Yes, evolution is a theory...so is the rest of science. Science is the observation, experimentation, and theoretical explanation of events and circumstances. If the education system is not teaching students that science is theory - then we have much bigger problems than evolution versus creationism.
Whatever you believe about the origin of life, can we not agree that scientists and science educators should decide what is taught in science class - not politicians and religion teachers? Regardless of how many Supreme Court Justices and political heavy weights disagree, I do not believe that the majority should eliminate the voice of the minority, especially if the minority is suported by sound scientific hypotheses well tested and backed by evidence.
What brought all this on, you ask? My thoughts were brought on by the front page article in today's Washington Post, "Battle on Teaching Evolution Sharpens" (by Peter Slevin), outlining some of the current debate. You may want to take a moment and read it. Maybe this summer we can have another monkey trial, at least this time the court room will have air conditioning.