Evolution Education in the American South

Coming soon, I will be proud of the publication of a volume called Evolution Education in the American South: Politics, Culture, and Resources in and around Alabama that I edited with Amanda Glaze, Bill Evans, & Laura Reed. The book is devoted to, well, promoting evolution education in & around Alabama. Our goal was to use the ALLELE series, Evolution Working Group, & other lectures in & around the University of Alabama as a point of departure for providing a resource on evolution education for teachers & undergrads. The ebook is due out shortly with a hardback scheduled for March 8, 2017 from Palgrave-Macmillan. Following is a table of contents with chapter abstracts:

CHAPTER 1: “Darwinism in the American South” by Ronald L. Numbers & Lester Stevens

The conventional view of the South as the strongest bastion of opposition to Darwinism in America has been reinforced by historians focusing on the dismissal of the prominent southern professors James Woodrow and Alexander Winchell for their acceptance of the theory of evolution, highlighting the Scopes trial of 1925, and dismissing the South as intellectually stagnant. A closer look reveals, however, that, while several writers in the South expressed great antipathy to evolution, Darwinism not only enjoyed support among a considerable number of southern intellectuals but also encountered less opposition than historians have recognized. This account provides a more complete picture than is customary of responses to Darwinism in the American South.

CHAPTER 2: “Race and Evolution in Antebellum Alabama: The Polygenist Prehistory We’d Rather Ignore” by Erik L. Peterson

The name of Alabama physician Josiah Clark Nott (1804–1873) adorns a building on the campus of the University of Alabama perhaps in part because he made it possible for scientists to speak of the origins of humanity and an antiquated Earth without first nodding to Genesis. Nott popularized a fully secular science that investigated the development of humanity two decades before Darwin’s Descent of Man (1871). But Nott also provided solid scientific support for some of the most repugnant racial theories of the Victorian era. Using previously unexplored archival resources, this essay attempts to clear up the mythology surrounding Nott, the history of evolutionary theory, and the role of American science during the foundation of anthropology.

CHAPTER 3: “’The Cadillac of Disclaimers’: Twenty Years of Official Antievolutionism in Alabama” by Glenn Branch

For the last twenty years, biology textbooks in the state of Alabama have featured a disclaimer about evolution, owing to a series of decisions on the part of the Alabama state board of education. Clearly motivated by antievolution sentiment and aimed at reinforcing doubt and denial about evolution on the part of students in the state’s public schools, the disclaimer was so prominent as to have been described as “the Cadillac of disclaimers.” Because of its longevity as well as its influence, it deserves—and repays—detailed attention as a manifestation of antievolutionism.

CHAPTER 4: “Deconstructing the Alabama Disclaimer with Students: A Powerful Lesson in Evolution, Politics, and Persuasion” by Patricia H. Hawley & Rachael K. Phillips

The present chapter deconstructs the disclaimers—warning the reader about evolution – pasted into the front covers of science textbooks in Alabama. By now, one might think, disclaimer rhetoric should fall on deaf ears. However, such depictions have worked their way into the national psyche and that the misconceptions contained within them are commonly held by university biology majors. We deconstruct the rhetoric in such a way that presents the exercise as a useful pedagogical tool for changing attitudes, knowledge about the nature of science, and understanding of the anti-evolutionist movements. We close by summarizing the present state of affairs in Alabama regarding disclaimers, topped with a call to action.

CHAPTER 5: “Bridging the Gaps: Evolution and Pre-Service Science Teachers” by Amanda L. Glaze

Traditionally, university instruction is based upon the assumption that students come to higher education prepared with fundamental knowledge and understandings of content, especially those, like evolution, that are unifying theories within and across fields. However, we are finding more and more that students in postsecondary education face many of the same struggles with understanding and acceptance of evolution as found in the general public. This suggests that students entering colleges and universities may not have the level of preparation in these, and other, controversial topics. In order to understand the teaching and learning of evolution at the primary and secondary levels, we must also understand how those who teach at those levels are prepared to do so and how their own misconceptions, understandings, and world views impact their teaching. Pre-service teachers occupy a transitional position between that the role of a student and that of teacher, lending a unique viewpoint for investigating the teaching and learning of evolution in tandem.

CHAPTER 6: “Evolution Acceptance among Undergraduates in the South” by Caitlin Schrein

Over the last two decades, studies and opinion polls have sought to quantify and qualify acceptance of the facts and theory of evolution by Americans in the public and at schools and universities. These studies and polls typically examine associations between evolution acceptance and factors such as age, religiosity, or education experience. Often, goals include identifying reasons students, teachers, or the public do or do not accept evolution. Fewer studies have considered how evolution acceptance is associated with  types of variables such as personal interests, behaviors, and decision-making. In other words, researchers don’t always consider whether acceptance is the most desired outcome of exposure to evolution education.

This chapter reviews research on populations of undergraduates attending large public universities in the southeastern and southwestern United States. I consider how exposure to the theory and facts of evolution during K-12 and undergraduate schooling is associated with undergraduate student interests, behaviors, and decision-making about social issues that have a scientific basis.

CHAPTER 7: “Using Nature of Science to Mitigate Tension in Teaching Evolution” Ian Binns and Mark Bloom

The theory of evolution is a central component of biology. Yet, a 2014 Gallup survey revealed that 42% of Americans reject evolution entirely and, instead, believe that humans were created in their present form approximately 10,000 years ago. While there are many reasons that people reject the theory of evolution, we argue that a misunderstanding of nature of science (NOS) and science in general play a big part. In this chapter, two science educators present their experiences with evolution in the South. The first section, written by Ian Binns, focuses on how the controversy over evolution education in the South informed how he teaches his science methods courses. The second part, written by Mark Bloom, describes how he incorporates NOS into his teaching when addressing evolution in conservative classrooms in the South to successfully mitigate the tension that many students experience.

CHAPTER 8: “Sharing News and Views about Evolution in Social Media” by William Evans

We have harnessed social media to meet our evolved needs to communicate, learn, and form and maintain social connections. For many of us, especially those of us who reside in the American South, beliefs about evolution are constitutive of self-identity and community affiliation. As such, these beliefs are resistant to change. These beliefs may be challenged by educators, scientists, and journalists. But we tend to interpret these challenges as threats, and we tend to employ social media to reinforce our solidarity with like-minded others. It can prove difficult to teach evolution or cover it objectively as a journalist, since the topic so readily triggers emotions that discourage or even short-circuit analytical thought. Journalists may be tempted to pander to emotions, to create stories about evolution that provoke and alarm viewers. This chapter positions social media in its evolutionary context; considers the distinctive aspects of social media users in the South; and reviews trends in religious affiliation that portend continued resistance to human evolution in the South even as acceptance grows elsewhere.

CHAPTER 9: “Resources for Teaching Biological Evolution in the Deep South” by Laura K. Reed

Teaching about biological evolution at all levels brings challenges not experienced in other fields of science, especially in the American south.  Having experience teaching evolution at the college level and also doing science outreach work in public schools in Alabama has given me some insights on how to tackle the challenges of the topic.  Here I describe a number of strategies and resources that can be used to improve and enrich education in evolutionary biology at all levels.

CHAPTER 10: “Teaching Louisiana Students About Evolution by Comparing the Anatomy of Fishes and Humans” by Prosanta Chakrabarty

Students in my Ichthyology class sometimes complain I talk about evolution too much: but my Evolution class never complains that I’m talking about fishes too much. I think in the latter case I make an argument about evolution that they normally don’t hear: The human body sucks – and because most of our body parts originated in an aquatic environment, these parts suit fishes much better. For students that have the preconceived notion that humans are at the top of some imaginary evolutionary ladder, the fact that their professor is arguing that fishes might be better than humans -in anything- is perplexing. But this little seed of disbelief starts them on the path to understanding that evolution results in a Tree of Life where humans are just a single tiny and young branch, and not a “Ladder of Life” with humans sitting firmly on top far removed from the rest of the animals.

CHAPTER 11: “Teaching Evolution using Live Animals and Inquiry-Based, Self-Guided Kits” by Dale Broder and Emily A. Kane

The authors describe their experiences with evolution and science education and how this led to their interest in inquiry-based teaching. Inquiry-based evolution education programs should be effective but are relatively uncommon, likely because of the resources and expertise required to create them. University/K-12 collaborations may be a solution, but tend to be limited in their reach. Kit-based teaching allows inquiry-based evolution programs to be more broadly disseminated. Kits may also improve engagement and science self-efficacy since students take ownership of their learning and independently master science tasks. We describe an inquiry-based kit that we developed in collaboration with local teachers and an Education and Outreach Center at Colorado State University. We used three populations of locally adapted fish, Trinidadian guppies, to illustrate important concepts in evolution. Students work through the self-guided kit and booklet to complete inquiry and authentic science experiments and observations. These activities allow them to discover each concept, and finally the definition of evolution at the end of the program. We describe the kit in detail and reflect on the challenges and successes associated with its creation and implementation.

CHAPTER 12: “Trace Fossils of Alabama: Life in the Coal Age” by Ronald J. Buta

Fossils are the naturally-preserved remains of an animal that once lived and died. Body fossils of ancient animals, especially vertebrates, are considered extremely important for what they can tell us about anatomical structure. Trace fossils, on the other hand, are the preserved traces of animals that were engaged in a daily activity, such as walking, swimming, jumping, burrowing, or resting. Trace fossils were originally impressed in wet mud or sand and then preserved in solid rock. Coal mining or construction can sometimes expose the preserved traces. Trace fossils are important for what they can tell us about how ancient animals behaved.

Walker County is a remarkable source of trace fossils in Alabama. This article describes what trace fossils are, how they form, how they are exposed, and the types of traces found in Alabama coal mines.

CHAPTER 13: “What can the Alabama Mississippians Teach us about Human Evolution and Behavior?” by Paul M. Bingham, Joanne Souza, and John H. Blitz

It is an exciting time in the scientific study of humans and our evolution. The archaeology of Alabama provides particularly powerful insights and empirical evidence adding much to this study. The “new human sciences” are maturing at an ever-accelerating rate from a series of relatively isolated disciplines (including psychology, biology, paleontology, archeology, anthropology, economics, and history) into a single powerfully insightful “human” science. Moreover, this growing clarity and confidence, in turn, allows us to choose specific opportunities for fruitful study—and Alabama offers an especially elegant case.

Over the course of the Scientific Revolution of the last 400 years, we have had many occasions to watch individual sciences mature. They pass through a predictable series of steps or stages. A new science begins with what is sometimes called “natural history,” the careful description of the phenomena to be described. The growth into a mature science follows.  This is when coherent theory, unifying the entire field of study, is developed. We have also learned that this transition from natural history to maturing science always involves unification with other sciences whose insights provide indispensable explanatory components to the emerging newer science.

CHAPTER 14: “Tattooing Commitment, Quality, and Football in Southeastern North America” by Christopher D. Lynn and Cassandra A. Medeiros

Tattooing appears to be a cultural and psychological pattern of behavior rooted in Darwinian processes. It is the result of an evolved tendency to manipulate human bodies in meaningful ways with distinctive benefits. Tattooing can signal group affiliation or commitment through using the body as a human canvas. Tattooing also provides cues about biological quality because it is an injury to the body, and the healing process on the surface of the skin is visible to everyone and impossible to fake. These factors make tattoos costly honest signals, consistent with evolutionary models in multiple species, including humans. In this chapter, we review the functions of tattooing from an evolutionary perspective, outline historic and prehistoric evidence from the North American Southeast, analyze biological implications, and discuss contemporary functions of tattooing among college football fans as a signal of commitment and quality.

Christopher Lynn

About Christopher Lynn

Christopher Dana Lynn is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama, where he directs the Evolutionary Studies program.  Chris teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in biological anthropology, human sexuality, evolution, biocultural medical anthropology, and neuroanthropology.  He received his Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology in 2009 from the University at Albany, SUNY, where his doctoral focus was on the influence of speaking in tongues on stress response among Pentecostals.  Chris runs a human behavioral ecology research group where the objectives include studying fun gimmicky things like trance, religious behavior, tattooing, and sex as a way of introducing students to the rigors of evolutionary science.  In all his “free” time, he breaks up fights among his triplet sons, enjoys marriage to the other Loretta Lynn, strokes his mustache, and has learned to be passionate about Alabama football (Roll Tide!).  Follow Chris on Twitter: @Chris_Ly
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