The lingering impact of the scopes trial on high school biology textbooks

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)790-796
Number of pages7
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2001

Bibliographical note

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In the late 1950s, policymakers in the United States became concerned that our nation’s scientific and technological abilities had been eclipsed by those of the Soviet Union. These concerns were heightened by the Soviet Union’s launch on 4 October 1957 of Sputnik I, the first orbiting artificial satellite. This launch announced to America that nature’s secrets—unlike political secrets—cannot be concealed and that no nation holds a monopoly on the laws of nature (Shermer 1997). In response to these concerns, President Dwight Eisenhower requested (and Congress passed) the National Defense Education Act of 1958, which encouraged the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund and develop state-of-the-art science textbooks. (Ironically, the National Defense Education Act would be used 18 years later in an attempt to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. In 1976, Arizona Congressman John Conlan sponsored an amendment to the National Defense Education Act that would “prohibit federal funding of any curriculum project with evolutionary content or implications” (Taylor 1992). The amendment passed by a vote of 222 to 174 [Taylor 1992]. Although the Senate narrowly rejected the amendment, funding for some projects [including many at the National Science Foundation] was delayed pending a review of their “evolutionary content.”) That same year, the American Institute of Biological Sciences approved a proposal to establish the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), which was funded by a grant of $143,000 from NSF. By 1959 BSCS had established its headquarters at the University of Colorado and received an additional grant of $595,000 from NSF. After testing its ideas with 1,000 teachers and 165,000 students in 47 states, the BSCS in 1963 produced three versions of a high school biology textbook, each identified by the color that dominated its cover—blue (a molecular approach), green (an environmental/ecological approach), and yellow (a cellular/developmental approach) (Engleman 2001).

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