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22 January 2023 THE MONKEY TRIAL: JOHN SCOPES AND THE BATTLE OVER TEACHING EVOLUTION by Anita Sanchez, Clarion, March 2023, 192p., ISBN: 978-0-35-845769-5


“But at stake was something John believed in very deeply: the rights of his students to study whatever they wanted to, and to make their own decisions about what they believed…’I did not think the state of Tennessee had any right to keep me from teaching the truth.’”


“School librarians in Florida will have to undergo training on choosing, removing, and curating books for school and classroom libraries to comply with a state law passed last year.

They are prohibited from using any instructional materials that include critical race theory, culturally responsive teaching, social-emotional learning, social justice, ‘and any other unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination are prohibited,’ according to the training.

They also have to seek input from parents before buying books and have to defend their choices in case of objections.

Librarians and education experts told Education Week that the training is going to contribute to self-censorship on the part of librarians, because they’re fearful of violating the rules. That, in turn, could lead to students losing access to diverse perspectives, especially historically marginalized students who find themselves represented by many of the banned books and instructional materials.”

– Education Week (1/18/2023)


“In man's evolution he's created the city

And the motor traffic rumble

But give me half a chance and I'd be taking off my clothes

And living in the jungle

'Cause the only time that I feel at ease

Is swinging up and down in the coconut trees

Oh what a life of luxury to be like an apeman”

– Ray Davies (1970)


In 1925, hoping the publicity would put their little burg on the map, to the benefit of the local economy, the town fathers of Dayton, Tennessee persuaded popular high school science teacher and part-time football coach John Scopes to participate in a test court case regarding a new state law banning the teaching of evolution. 


“John Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution on May 5, 1925, but he wasn’t handcuffed and thrown in jail. He wasn’t marched off to stand before a judge. When he agreed to plead guilty to the offense of teaching evolution, nothing about his life changed–at least not right away. After being informed by a hastily summoned constable that he was officially under arrest, John was allowed to finish his soda and go back to the tennis court for another game. But his quiet answer had set powerful forces in motion, like the tiny pebble that starts an avalanche.

The enterprising group of businessmen immediately started spreading the word. George Rappleyea raced off to send a telegram to the ACLU informing them that Dayton had a teacher willing to stand trial. Meanwhile, Fred Robinson, delighted by the success of the idea that had been born in his drugstore, dashed to the telephone and called a local newspaper, the Chattanooga News. ‘This is F.E. Robinson in Dayton,’ he announced. ‘I’m a chairman of the school board here. We’ve just arrested a man for teaching evolution.’ Superintendent White contacted a reporter he knew from Nashville. News was spreading fast…

Soon the name John Scopes would be famous all around the globe–which John began to realize with dread.”


There was plenty of fear behind passage of Tennessee's Butler Anti-Evolution Act. Racists feared that teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution would lead to people believing that Black and white people came from the same origins. And fundamentalist Christians believed that Darwin’s theory would stop people from believing the literal meaning of the Bible and Christian tenets. The Bible-related issues motivated perennial presidential candidate and legendary orator William Jennings Bryan to volunteer to join the team prosecuting the case. Soon after, Clarence Darrow, then the country's most famous lawyer, joined the defense team. Despite the fact that Scopes was only being charged with a misdemeanor, the resulting “Monkey Trial” shaped up to be a Super Bowl sort of affair.


In crafting this notable piece of middle-grade nonfiction, Anita Sanchez does a stellar job of describing the colorful setting, the famous characters, the legal issues, and the action in and out of the courtroom, as the “Trial of the Century” takes place. It’s a fascinating look at America 100 years ago: Airplanes were a new invention; radio broadcasting was in its infancy; movies were silent; women couldn’t go to college or work in most fields and professions, and the Civil War was still in the rear mirror.


The book’s extensive backmatter includes “An Evolutionary Timeline,” which ends with a 2019 entry: “A Gallup poll shows that 40 percent of adult Americans believe in ‘a strictly creationist view of human origins, believing that God created them in their present form within roughly the past 10,000 years.’” Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. That’s quite an indictment of American education today.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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