These women don't seem to realize how well-established the theory of evolution is and how central it is to the study of science. Of course, it should be taught in school. The more lively present-day issue is whether intelligent design may also be taught alongside evolution, but that isn't what the women were asked. The question prompts them to think of evolution as something that perhaps ought not to be taught in schools. From the bizarre similarity of the answers, I would extrapolate standard beauty-contest advice: Look for the prompt in the question and echo it back with some embellishment that makes you sound thoughtful, caring, and respectful of diversity.
But maybe, as Nicolle Belle at Crooks and Liars says:
The way that the majority of these women express their view that there are multiple and equally scientifically valid arguments truly shows the success of the religious right to muddy the waters and dumb down the populace by introducing skepticism over scientific theory.By the same token, these answers may show how fundamental it is in America to believe in gathering information, listening to the argument about what might be true, and developing your powers of judgment. So, to some extent, what these women are saying aligns with the scientific method.
More than anything else, however, what I hear in these answers is a deep instinct toward freedom of choice. I felt moved to transcribe Miss New Jersey's remark because it was so perfectly typical of what they all seemed to be saying:
"I think everything should be taught in schools, every single aspect of evolution and anything you can think of. I think they should have the option of learning everything that there is to learn and then kind of choose what they like to believe."Now, there is something absurd about that. You don't want to teach kids everything you can think of, and they shouldn't be choosing what to believe based on what they like, but there's something beautiful and quintessentially American about that commitment to the free flow of information and the freedom of belief. It's not that far from the statement on the "sifting and winnowing" plaque here at the University of Wisconsin... about which I once said:
I would like to see some "continual and fearless" judgment about who should be given the opportunity to amass the pile of material that students are assigned to sift and winnow.That is, you don't just throw anything you can think of at the students and leave it to them to find the truth. And some things are so well-established that it's a good idea to teach them quickly and simply as facts and save the "sifting and winnowing" activity for some other set of material. That brings us back to evolution: Should schools teach it as a fact — this is the theory — or use this subject as an occasion for teaching students how to look at evidence and judge it critically? I think that is the interesting question, and it is not at all obvious which approach is more supportive of science/religion.