A legal analysis of the legitimate pedagogical interest of teaching alternatives to evolution in public schools

by Potter, Robert Lance.

Abstract (Summary)
For decades schools and students have been caught in the middle of a scientific, educational, and cultural battle over the teaching regarding the origins of life. The theory of evolution is at the center of the controversy. Widely accepted by scientists as a reliable scientific theory, evolution is attacked by conservative Christians as against God and a literal interpretation of the creation story of the Bible. Recently, intelligent design has emerged as an alternative to evolution and creationism. Intelligent design proponents argue that life becomes so irreducibly complex as to lead to the conclusion that an unnamed intelligent power must have had a role in creation. Over the years, the debate over teaching evolution in schools has waged in our nation’s court system. The Supreme Court and various lower courts have ruled against attempts to limit teaching evolution or require the teaching of creationism. Courts have also ruled against attempts to introduce disclaimers, either written or verbal, which question the primacy of evolution as the only explanation for the origins of life. Primarily courts reason that governing bodies have been motivated by a religious purpose to inhibit the teaching of evolution or advance the teaching of a religious view of creation which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This paper reviews the legal dimensions of the origins controversy and then introduces different perspectives to the traditional approach to the debate. Specifically, other aspects of Establishment Clause jurisprudence as well as freedom of speech in schools analyses are discussed. These cases show that schools can teach “about” religion so long as they do not endorse religion. They also show that school boards are the primary decision makers about what will be included in the curriculum of the schools in their jurisdiction. As such, they have only to show a “legitimate pedagogical concern” in support of their decisions. The cases also show courts’ preference for students to have access to a wide variety of information and be free to inquire into matters of interest. Educational literature and the culture generally also acknowledge the importance of students learning about religion in a neutral manner. This paper then proposes a framework that details steps school boards may take to develop a policy for teaching about the origins controversy in science classes. The framework respects the protections of the Establishment Clause and freedom of speech from the First Amendment and incorporates the educational and cultural interest in teaching about religion and the origins controversy in a way that respects the findings of science and the beliefs of many students. iii
Bibliographical Information:


School:Pennsylvania State University

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:

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