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Online Lessons for Teachers: Learning Evolution


Why Is Evolution Controversial?

Back to LESSON 7

Activity 1: Controversy through Time

Activity 1: Teacher Notes

Activity 2: Teacher Notes

Activity 2: Scopes Trial

From July 10 to 25, 1925, a young science teacher and football coach named John Scopes stood on trial in Dayton, Tennessee, for reading from the following passage from page 194 of Hunter's Civic Biology (published in 1914) to his high school class:

The great English scientist, Charles Darwin, from this and other evidence, explained the theory of evolution. This is the belief that simple forms of life on the earth slowly and gradually gave rise to those more complex and that thus ultimately the most complex forms came into existence.

Scopes had broken the Butler Act, which stated:

An act prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof.

Let's examine the events and circumstances of one of America's most famous court cases, Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes.

Part A: Understanding the Trial

Doug Linder, law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, has assembled a Web site with excerpts and eyewitness accounts from the Scopes Trial. Go to "Famous Trials in American History: Tennessee vs. John Scopes, the 'Monkey Trial'." Read the introduction for an overview. You also may want to read H. L. Mencken's newspaper reports or the Tennessee statute that made the teaching of evolution illegal in public schools and universities.


On the main page of the Scopes Trial site above, jump to "Trial Pictures and Cartoons." View the two cartoon sites listed.


Explain what you think the artist was trying to depict in each cartoon. Write your descriptions based on your knowledge of evolution and your understanding of the circumstances surrounding this trial. You may need to reexamine the trial facts presented in Professor Linder's Web site to gather additional background information.

Part B: Draw a Cartoon


Become an editorial cartoonist yourself. Create your own cartoon about the evolution controversy. Your cartoon should include a drawing, a caption, and an explanation of what you intend to convey.


You may wish to view sample editorial cartoons at before you draw your own. Avoid putting down people with opinions different from your own. Use your cartoon to educate, not humiliate.


Give your cartoon descriptions and your original cartoon to your teacher for presentation to the rest of your class.

Part C: Court Decisions


Visit the National Center for Science Education's site titled, "Eight Significant Court Decisions."


Read about a court case influencing the teaching of evolution in this country and explain it to the rest of your class.


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