Florida's Battles over Evolution in the Classroom
Publication Year: 2014
Before William Jennings Bryan successfully prosecuted John Scopes in the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial,” he was a prominent antievolution agitator in Florida.
In Going Ape, Brandon Haught tells the riveting story of how the war over teaching evolution began and unfolded in Florida, one of the nation’s bellwether states. It still simmers just below the surface, waiting for the right moment to engulf the state.
The saga opens with the first shouts of religious persecution and child endangerment in 1923 Tallahassee and continues today with forced delays and extra public hearings in state-level textbook adoptions. These ceaseless battles feature some of the most colorful culture warriors imaginable: a real estate tycoon throwing his fortune into campaigns in Miami; lawmakers attempting to insert the mandatory teaching of creationism into bills; and pastors and school board members squabbling in front of the national media that descends into their small town. The majority of participants, however, have been, and still are, average people, and Haught expertly portrays these passionate citizens and the sense of moral duty that drives each of them.
Given a social climate where the teaching of evolution continues to sharply divide neighbors and communities, Going Ape is a must-read for anyone concerned with the future of public education.
Published by: University Press of Florida
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“As a trained biologist I never even realized that there was anything controversial about evolution,” said Dr. C. Francis Byers, recalling his time as a new biology professor in the 1920s at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “It came as a surprise to me to be suddenly, as a young...
1. “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”
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After three unsuccessful bids to gain the U.S. presidency, William Jennings Bryan and his wife, Mary, bought land in Coconut Grove in 1912 and had their first Florida home, Villa Serena, built there. It was intended as a winter retreat for Mary’s health, but when Bryan resigned...
2. “Un-American, Atheistic, Subversive, and Communistic”
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It would take three decades for another significant anti-evolution movement to appear in Florida. In the meantime, teachers still had occasional uncomfortable encounters with parents and students when science subjects clashed with religious beliefs. In 1948 the Florida Department of...
3. “A Spirit of Compromise and Conciliation”
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Hillsborough County’s decision in the spring of 1980 to mandate creationism instruction in its schools encouraged citizens in other counties to go before their own school boards and ask to follow Hillsborough’s lead. For instance, Pasco County had avoided the notice of the creationists...
4. “A History of Hoaxes, Deception, and Deceit”
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With federal court cases in the early 1980s coming down hard on creationism in other states, it looked like evolution education also had won in Florida. The big fish, Hillsborough County, slipped away from the scientific creationists, and all the other counties that were nibbling at the...
5. “A Conspiracy to Destroy the Faith of Children”
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As attempts to water down evolution in the classroom waned in the far northwest corner of the state, the opposite problem flared to life in March 1988 in the far southeast. Unlike the situation in Escambia County, where parents fought against evolution’s dominance in the...
6. “It Was Historic, Wasn’t It?”
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The Lake County School Board in 1990 was wasting the public’s money, local resident Pat Hart believed. There was little discipline in the schools, and no one was teaching the core knowledge students needed for their futures. It got so bad in her mind that she had pulled her son out of...
7. “One of the Primal Evils in Our Country”
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Efforts to promote creationism in Volusia County had been ongoing for years, but they had never made a big splash. Advocates were no less passionate there than in other counties, but they were stymied at every turn. They felt their views were ignored by the public school system while...
8. “There Are Razor Blades in That Apple”
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It was 1996, and a few concerned Lee County residents felt something was lacking in their public schools. They believed students needed exposure to traditional values and character education, and a great way to get that was through elective Bible classes. The National Council on...
9. “I Want God to Be Part of This”
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A committee of thirty-three “framers” met in May 2007 to finally kick off the official standards review process. The Office of Mathematics and Science—a branch of the Florida Department of Education—assembled science educators from all levels along with business leaders and private...
10. “Who Gets to Decide What Is Science?”
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Politics is “not for pansies,” Ronda Storms said when she was a Hillsborough County commissioner in 2004. She had no problem speaking her mind when it came to her strong Christian conservative convictions. The rural citizens she represented appreciated how she always put them...
11. “Standing Up for the Little Guy”
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Darwin Day is an unofficial holiday in mid-February that celebrates the famous naturalist’s birth, and many museums, universities, and clubs worldwide host celebrations. There were a few events in Florida in 2008 that coincidentally served as ironic counterpoints to the evolution battles...
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It’s difficult to write an ending to a book when the tale it tells isn’t finished. The last chapter left off with Kenny Merriken’s crusade in Columbia County, but it’s clear Merriken is just getting started. A few decades ago, Rev. Clarence Winslow set out on a path similar to Merriken’s...
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Thank goodness for packrats! Nancy Marsh, retired Hillsborough County Schools supervisor of secondary science, still has boxes stuffed full of documents from back in the early 1980s when her school board required the teaching of scientific creationism alongside evolution...
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About the Author
Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 10 b/w illus
Publication Year: 2014