TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Three University of Alabama faculty and a 2013 alumna recently joined forces to address the challenges of evolution education within Alabama.
According to Dr. Christopher Lynn, who initiated the project and is a UA associate professor of anthropology, Alabama’s statewide evolution education has been struggling for decades.
In fact, in 2009 two members of the National Center for Science Education gave Alabama an F for the second time in 10 years for having poor coverage of evolutionary topics in schools and for including a disclaimer at the front of textbooks referring to evolution as just a theory.
“That was horrible: we had no state standard for evolution at the time,” Lynn said.
And though Alabama has developed some state standards for evolution education in recent years, Lynn says that the state still has a long way to go.
“Teachers who want to teach evolution often aren’t sufficiently armed to do so in a way that is not only meaningful but interesting,” Lynn said. “To help, we wanted to provide them with a resource that would go beyond the few pages that might be in a biology textbook — and we wanted to provide local perspectives that go beyond biological evolution as well.”
The product was a non-technical book on evolution, framed within the context of Alabama culture and landscape.
For two years Lynn worked with Dr. Laura Reed, UA associate professor of biology, Dr. William Evans, a UA journalism professor and Dr. Amanda Glaze, an assistant professor of teaching and learning at Georgia Southern University and who is a UA alumna, to create the 330-page volume called “Evolution Education in the American South: Culture, Politics, and Resources in Alabama,” which was published earlier this year.
The book uses 14 essays, authored by 21 contributors, to tell the history of evolution education in Alabama and showcase that evolutionary theories are not just pertinent to biology — but history, media, medicine, astronomy, psychology and virtually every other field.
“Evolutionary perspectives can help explain all sorts of things from social media behavior to tattooing,” Evans said. “I hope the book will encourage readers to think about the many ways they can apply evolutionary perspectives to understand their world.”
Lynn stresses that the primary goal of the book is to give students access to a well-rounded education and to prepare them for their future careers.
“Evolution is one of the cornerstones laid out by the Next Generation Science Standards,” Lynn said. “It’s not just us; this is how you prepare our young people for careers in STEM.”
Many of the book’s contributors were previous speakers for the Alabama Lectures on Life’s Evolution, or ALLELE, series at UA. The ALLELE series is supported by more than 16 programs at The University of Alabama, and it brings lecturers from around the country to discuss various aspects of evolution throughout the school year.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.