Friday, June 30, 2006

Heroes in Georgia: Ms. New and Mr. Carter

A respected Georgia high school teacher, one of only two credentialed teachers in a rural community, takes an extremely radical position. She teaches about evolution ....
Evolution's Lonely Battle in a Georgia Classroom - New York Times

... Pat New, 62, a respected, veteran middle school science teacher, ... 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 discreet battle.

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...

...On May 5, 2005, she filled out a complaint to initiate a grievance under state law, writing that she was being "threatened and harassed" though "I am following approved curriculum." She also wrote, "If we could get together within 24 hours and settle this and I feel I have support to teach the standards, then I would tear it up."

Suddenly the superintendent was focused on standards. Mr. Moye called the state department's middle school science supervisor and asked about evolution. "Obviously the State Department of Education supports evolution," Mr. Moye said in an interview....

... In January 2004, when they were about to be adopted, Kathy Cox, Georgia's education superintendent, announced that she would remove evolution from the standards because it was too divisive an issue. That set off a huge protest that included former President Jimmy Carter and Governor Sonny Perdue, a Republican. Within days, Ms. Cox reversed herself.
The strong implication is that the superintendent would have stopped her teaching evolution, save that it was a state standard.

It's the standard part that makes this a peculiar story. I'm used to thinking of education in the southern US as utterly miserable -- but Georgia has a state standard that supports biology education?! I recall that we even had a struggle (kept VERY quiet) in Minnesota to keep natural selection in the curriculum.

Clearly Ms. New is a hero, but it's nice to hear of yet another righteous act by the noblest American - James Carter. (Yes, credit to Republican Perdue too -- Carter just happens to be an old hero of mine.)

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