[go to link for full article]
Evolution's Lonely Battle in a Georgia Classroom
by Michael Winerip
(New York Times, 6/28/2006)
DAHLONEGA, Georgia - 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
She isn't sure how many questioned her teaching of evolution
perhaps a dozen parents, teachers and administrators and several
students in her seventh-grade life science class. They sent e-mail
messages and letters, stopped her in the hall, called board members,
demanded meetings, requested copies of the PBS videos that she
showed in class.
One parent asked how money could be wasted on a subject like
evolution: "As budget cuts continuously chip away at our children's
future of a good, quality college-ready education," she wrote, "I
would think there would be more educational, more worthwhile and
certainly more factual learning that could be taught." She requested
that her son be permitted to "bide his time elsewhere" when
evolution was taught.
Ms. New explained that evolution is so central to biology, the boy
would be biding elsewhere all year long. Practically every chapter
in her Prentice Hall textbooks "Bacteria to Plants," "Cells and
Heredity," "Animals" used evolution to trace the development of
life starting with bacteria, green algae and gymnosperms.
The books were purchased by her district, and she sent her
supervisors copies, marking evolution references with dozens of Post-
its, but it didn't seem to register. On April 25, 2005, during a
meeting about parent complaints with her principal, Rick Conner, she
recalled: "He took a Bible off the bookshelf behind him and
said, 'Patty I believe in everything in this book, do you?' I told
him, 'I really feel uncomfortable about your asking that question.'
He wouldn't let it go.' " The next day, she said, in the
lunchroom, "he reached across the table, took my hand and said: 'I
accept evolution in most things but if they ever say God wasn't
involved I couldn't accept that. I want you to say that, Pat.'"
Asked to comment during an interview here, Mr. Conner would say
only, "I don't want to talk about it."
Four days after her encounter with the principal, Ms. New was
summoned to a meeting with the superintendent, Dewey Moye, as well
as the principal and two parents upset about her teaching
evolution. "We have to let parents ask questions," Mr. Moye told
her. "It's a public school. In a democracy people can ask questions."
Ms. New said the parents, "badgered, got loud and sarcastic and
there was no support from administrators."
Babs Greene, another administrator, "asked if I was almost finished
teaching evolution," Ms. New recalled. "I explained to her again
that it is a unifying concept in life science. It is in every unit I
teach. There was a big sigh."
"I thought I was going crazy," said Ms. New, who has won several
outstanding teacher awards and is one of only two teachers at her
school with national board certification. The other is her husband,
"It takes a lot to stand up and be willing to have people angry at
you," she said. But Ms. New did. She repeatedly urged her
supervisors to read Georgia's science standards, particularly S7L5,
which calls for teaching evolution.