The latest chapter in the debate over how to teach the origins of human life is unfolding closer to home than many in the Grady community would have ever expected.
A PowerPoint shown to a freshman biology class featured a cartoon depicting dueling castles, one labeled “Creation (Christ)” and the other labeled “Evolution (Satan).” Balloons attached to the evolution castle were labeled euthanasia, homosexuality, pornography, divorce, racism and abortion.
The PowerPoint was assigned for the students to view on the website Blackboard as a part of Anquinette Jones’ freshman biology class. Jones declined comment, saying that the PowerPoint originated with APS.
The PowerPoint, which has more than 50 slides largely consisting of material about evolution, was downloaded from SharePoint, an APS file-sharing database for teachers. It was uploaded by Mary E. King, a project manager at APS who has also uploaded more than 2,000 other documents. Phone calls and emails to King have not been returned. Tommy Molden, science coordinator for APS, also did not respond to requests for comment.
“Evolution is part of high school biology curriculum,” the PowerPoint reads. “You are entitled to challenge everything and encouraged to believe whatever you would like.”
Several students and parents were offended by the implications of the cartoon, including freshman Seraphina Cooley, who is in Jones’ class.
“[I] have gay parents, and [the cartoon] said that evolution caused homosexuality and it implied that to be negative, so I was pretty offended by it,” Cooley said.
Cooley said that another student emailed the administration complaining about the PowerPoint.
Freshman Griffin Ricker, who is also in Jones’ class, said Jones got angry with the class when she found out students had notified the administration.
“She had a 10-minute rant,” Ricker said. “She yelled and said, ‘This is on the APS website, and it was certified.’”
Freshman Lily Soto, who switched from Jones’ biology class after the first semester, said Jones had refused to teach evolution when the class approached the portion of the cirriculum.
“She always had random comments about [creationism],” Soto said. “If someone would ask if we were going to learn evolution, she was like, ‘No, I don’t teach that.’”
Robin Rosen, parent of a freshman, took her child out of Jones’ class after the first semester. She said she wouldn’t have talked to The Southerner if her child were still in Jones’ class, for fear of retaliation.
“I was offended, but more shocked and disturbed that a teacher in [APS] could get away with putting that in a classroom,” Rosen said. “Offended is probably the wrong word at this point; it is very troubling to me that a teacher who is in a position of influence over children in a public school can put something up [like the cartoon].”
Fellow science teacher Nikolai Curtis said the PowerPoint was, in his opinion, inappropriate to show while teaching evolution.
“[It] dealt specifically with the religious controversy associated with it, and one of the major rules of teaching evolution is that it is science, and it is based in fact, based in evidence,” Curtis said.
Curtis said that the system, however, has not told biology teachers how to deal with the controversy.
“I look at it professionally,” he said. “Science is based in fact; that’s the secret of science.”
Curtis also said that neither creationism nor any form of intelligent design are mentioned in APS standards, an omission he deems appropriate.
“If you start adopting religious doctrine as a form of teaching, you start advocating for a religion,” Curtis said. “There is no national religion. When you teach religion in a public school setting, you are reinforcing a national religion, and that’s not acceptable.”
Sophomore Isabel Olson, who took biology from Jones last year, said that this cartoon was not the first instance of creationism being discussed in class. She said that one time, a classmate asked how cells were created.
“Ms. Jones’ answer was [something like], ‘It’s divine, God created us.’” Olson said.
Olson also said Jones had the students debate creationism versus evolution.
“One day we had to go home and prepare a short debate to do for the next class about creationism versus evolution,” Olson said, “We had to prepare the pros and cons of creationism and evolution and present the ideas.”
Olson said she went to talk to administrators about the religious aspect of Jones’ teaching, but they didn’t take any action.
Georgia Department of Education director of communications Matt Cardoza confirmed that creationism is not included in the state curriculum standards for biology. In fact, he said Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard established that a state cannot require the teaching of creationism.
In the case, the court found that a Louisiana law which required the teaching of creationism was unconstitutional, since the law’s intent was to advance a particular religion. The Court found, however, that “teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.” The majority opinion was based on the “Lemon Test,” named for the 1971 Supreme Court case Lemon v. Kurtzman.
The Lemon Test outlines whether an action taken by the government violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, the basis for the separation of church and state.
While it is a well-established fact that it is unlawful to solely teach creationism alone, the constitutionality of creationism being taught alongside evolution is less clear.
Georgia State University professor Eric Segall, who specializes in constitutional law, said that creationism is only permissible if taught in the context of evolution: “[Creationism] has to be taught alongside evolution, and it has to be taught very generally, as an alternative theory of evolution.”
Although there is no clear Supreme Court case banning the teaching of creationism in public schools, a district court case seems to strengthen the argument of proponents of the ban.
In Webster v. New Lenox School District (1999), the court found that a school district was allowed to prohibit teachers from teaching creationism and equated “creation science” to religious advocacy, saying that any form of its teaching was unconstitutional. Upon appeal, the case was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit.