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Evolution of teaching

In July 1925, the nation was spellbound by the verbal sparring at what many considered to be the "trial of the century."

Seventy years later, echoes from the courtroom drama known as the "Scopes monkey trial" can still be heard in American science education--and in the town of Dayton, Tenn., where the trial occurred.

This year's annual Scopes Festival, coordinated by nearby Bryan College, packed in out-of-towners for three days of re-enactments of the trial in the original Rhea County Courthouse, according to Tom Best, the city recorder in Dayton.

Seventy summers ago, spectators from across the country came to Dayton to watch two eminent lawyers wrangle over whether John T. Scopes, the coach at Dayton High School, had defied a state law forbidding the teaching of evolution.

Coverage of the case enhanced the national reputation of H.L. Mencken, a columnist for the Baltimore Evening Sun.

After eight days of heated exchanges between defense attorney Clarence Darrow and prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, Scopes was found guilty. Mencken's employer paid Scopes' $100 fine.

Dayton High School no longer exists. More than a decade ago it became part of Rhea County High School.

And the newspaper that did so much to publicize the trial is slated to become just another memory. The Evening Sun, hit by sagging circulation and revenues, will stop publishing Sept. 15.

But communities still wrangle over the teaching of evolution.

Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the Berkeley, Calif.-based National Center for Science Education, a creationism watchdog group, noted that two years ago a conservative-Christian majority on the Vista, Calif., school board appeared poised to adopt creationist tenets in the science curriculum there. Angry voters ousted them late last year.


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