Of Recess and Evolution in Georgia

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat.

John, Viscount Morley of Blackburn, Voltaire

Recess is in; evolution is out. We return to Georgia to see what’s happening in its world of lower education.

When last we visited in 1998 we learned that Atlanta was following the lead of schools in Chicago by eliminating recess from lower schools. The New York Times disclosed that Atlanta, (and many other schools) had eliminated recess in elementary schools, believing that particular interlude in the child’s day to be a waste of time, unlike kindergartner Toya Gray who confided to the reporter that: “I’d like to sit on the grass and look for ladybugs.” Toya and others like her were saved from such propensities by wiser adults who put an end to them. Now we are told, the end to the end of recess may be in sight, at least in Georgia.

A recent news story discloses that Georgia State University education expert Olga Jarrett has concluded that recess is not a bad thing. She and a bipartisan group of state legislators are planning on introducing a bill in the 2004 session of the state legislature that would require schools to provide students with a minimum of one unstructured 15-minute break each day. If the bill passes, the children will be permitted outdoors at least once each day. That will probably upset those like Benjamin O. Canada, the superintendent of schools in Atlanta who, at the time the elimination of recess was announced explained: “We are intent on improving academic performance. You don’t get that by hanging on monkey bars.” And that brings us to the next development in public school education in Georgia.

On January 29 it was reported that in a proposed set of guidelines for middle and high school sciences decision makers had removed the word “evolution” from text books and reduced the emphasis on ideas pertaining to Earth’s age and the natural selection of species.

Following the report of this change in the curriculum, Georgia’s schools superintendent Kathy Cox described the word evolution as “a buzz word that causes a lot of negative reaction.” She said that people often associate “evolution” with “that monkeys-to-man sort of thing.” To dispel the illusion that intellectually she was just crawling out of a murky swamp, she said the teaching of evolution would be accompanied by teaching “emerging models of change,” a concept that challenges Darwin’s theory. In texts the word “evolution” has been replaced with “changes over time.” “Long history of earth” has been shortened to eliminate the word “long” thus placating those who are reasonably certain that the earth is at most a few thousand years old

When running for office, Ms. Cox applauded those parents who wanted texts to include what she thinks are Christian beliefs about how the earth was formed. She said: “I’d leave the state out of it and would make sure teachers were well prepared to deal with competing theories.” Explaining her actions in a news conference on January 30 she said: “This wasn’t so much a religion vs. science, politics kind of issue. This was an issue of how do we ensure that our kids are getting a quality science education in every classroom across the state.” She said students had to understand that science is constantly changing (unlike, presumably living things) and children should be exposed to all legitimate theories. She said the idea that a higher being had a purposeful design for earth was a scientific theory that could be discussed in classrooms. “That is a scientific theory. Now people say, ‘Oh, those folks, they’re kook scientists.’ But it does have scientists, rather than theologians, talking about other ways we may have come into being. ”

Some legislators, scientists and teachers say Ms. Cox is embarrassing the state and will weaken the educational system. Some say that even without the change the Georgia curriculum is weak in biology with a resultant high failure rate in the subject among high school students. Associate Professor David Jackson at the University of Georgia trains middle school science teachers. Commenting on the proposal he said one-half of his entering students have little knowledge of evolutionary theory. “I think there’s already formal and informal discouragements to teaching evolution in public school.” he said. Formally decreasing the emphasis on evolutionary theory means an even greater number of the young will grow up ignorant of our relationship to the monkey. Reintroducing recess, however, means they will once again be permitted to swing on monkey bars. Some probably consider that a fair trade.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. His column appears weekly in the Daily Camera. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu


Christopher Brauchli can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com