School Choice Would Erase Evolution Debate


Barry Fagin



When it comes to teaching evolution,  Colorado gets a B.   That’s according to the Thomas Fordham Foundation’s “National Report Card on the Treatment of Evolution in Science Standards”.  Overall, we rank 11/50. Not bad, but we can do better.  Much better, in fact, when we get school choice.


School choice isn’t normally on people’s radar screens when it comes to the evolution “controversy”.  Think about it:  what images pop into your head when you think about teaching evolution in the public schools?  Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind? Angry parents at school board meetings?  “Godless humanists”?  “Right-wing fanatics”?


Whatever you think of, chances are it’s filled with anger, outrage, and passion.  It’s time we stepped back and asked if there were more rational ways to deal with the problem.  Ways like school choice.


I’m a hard-core evolutionist.  Creationism and its pseudo-scientific cousin “intelligent design” are at best wishful thinking, and at worst utter nonsense.  The same process that tells us everything we know about the world shows very clearly that the earth is billions of years old, that species evolve over time in response to external pressures, and that very complex systems can arise from simple beginnings in ways entirely consistent with the known laws of physics.  None of this is a threat to my faith.  It does not change one whit my sense of wonder at the universe we find ourselves in.  To the contrary, I find it awe-inspiring and profound.


I have enough evangelical Christian friends, however, to know that my views are not shared.  Many people in Colorado have dedicated their lives to a different perspective, one that they wish to pass on to their children in a formal educational setting.  How, then, should I react?


One way to handle disagreements in society is for the majority to impose their will on the minority.  Sometimes, it’s important that we do this.  When the nation goes to war, for example, we can’t have people who disagree send their taxes elsewhere.  Once the decision has been made, all members of society must support it.  For actions that require everyone to act together, the use of force is regrettable but necessary.


But living in a free society means that we don’t do this casually.  When faced with a controversial problem, our first impulse should be to seek pluralistic, diverse solutions that respect the differences of all involved:  the imposition of majority will should occur only as a last resort.  After all, we don’t have a national religion, because the founders understood that we didn’t need one.  In a country with freedom of religion, the majority doesn’t impose its theology on the minority. We all worship in our own way, or not at all. 


It should be the same way with teaching evolution; that’s why school choice is so important.  In a truly competitive educational environment, parents who feel strongly about evolution vs. intelligent design will send their kids to schools with the appropriate curricula.  No more embarrassing school board fiascos, no more show trials, no more shouting matches.  I send my child where I want, you send yours where you want.  We don’t have to fight each other at our neighborhood monopoly school, and the issue blissfully fades from public debate.


Sadly, most of my fellow ACLU members don’t understand this perspective.  It’s sad because  the ACLU used to have an honorable history of support for pluralism and diversity.  It never ceases to amaze me how easily the ACLU abandons the rights of minorities against the majority when it suits its political agenda.   Some Americans don’t want Darwin taught to their children.  If they are not worthy of defense against the majority, then who is?


Do I think creationists are teaching their kids garbage?  Absolutely.  Would I want my children learning “intelligent design” in science class?  Absolutely not.  But as someone committed to both rights and responsibilities, I support the right of parents to educate their kids with public money in ways that they think best.  Even if I think they’re wrong.


That’s why, wherever you stand on the question of evolution, you should support educational choice.  When it comes, we can all stop shouting at one another, and the voice of reason will prevail.  Even if we don’t all hear it the same way.


Fagin is the Senior Fellow in Technology Policy at the Independence Institute, and a member of the Rocky Mountain Skeptics.  He is an ACLU National Civil Liberties Award recipient, and a member of Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs.