NEWS

Charles Darwin’s exclusion from schools

It is the basis of all biological sciences and, without it, the experts say, our world would be incomprehensible. However, the theory of the evolution of species by natural selection, nearly 150 years after being formulated by Charles Darwin and several decades after its adoption by the world scientific community, is still not included in Greek school curriculum. It is referred to in the final chapter of the biology textbook in the third year of junior high, but is not taught for lack of time, as this last chapter is often left out of the examination material. «It is clear that evolution is not taught in Greek schools,» said Manos Papadakis, head of the Panhellenic Union of Bioscientists, which for years has been campaigning to have Darwin included in the school curriculum. «It is not that a chapter of biology, such as that on the respiratory system, is not being taught. Evolution is our unifying theory, the backbone of biology.» It is as if the periodic table in chemistry was not being taught, say biologists, as if Newtonian theory were to be removed from the teaching of physics, or that the Earth revolves around the sun. «Today children are not learning how humans evolved. Or rather, they learn it in religion classes,» said biology teacher Marilena Zarftzian. «It is not only a problem of knowledge. Without learning about the evolution of species, their common origins, children will never see the world as a whole. They aren’t able to acquire a sense of ecology. When you don’t have a sense of your brotherly relationship with the other species on this planet, the animals and plants, you don’t respect them, you see them as being beneath you.» «Evolution should be the basis of education because it provides answers to the what, when and why of nearly all things,» said Professor Zacharias Skouras of Aristotle University’s department of genetics. Although over 250 scientists and teachers have signed a resolution asking for evolution to be taught in Greek schools, the state appears to be turning a deaf ear. Biologists are well aware of a statement by a former Education Ministry official, who reportedly said, «As long as I am here, evolution will not be taught in secondary schools.» Sources at the state teachers’ college say that although every year they include evolution in the third-year junior high examination material, it is always left out with the excuse of «work overload» for pupils. In fact, whether children are taught evolution or not is up to the individual teacher. «That is how it is. In third-year junior high, it is in the curriculum, but at the end of the book and most teachers never get around to it,» said Zarftzian. According to Skouras, the theory of evolution «by nature resists the establishment mentality, it has a revolutionary aspect.» It is clear that the state is unwilling to dispute the issue with the Church and a sector of society. «Is the ministry afraid of the political cost? What is certain is that evolution is not taught and it does not seem likely that it will be taught in Greek schools anytime in the near future. And we dare make fun of the Americans,» said a biology teacher who wished to remain anonymous. «At least there is a debate in the USA.» «It is true that Greek society is afraid to look clearly at this issue,» added Zarftzian. «The repercussions, however, are already visible. A large percentage of 16-year-olds believe that human beings do not belong to the animal kingdom. The replies they give to questionnaires on this issue are very conservative.»