What was at Stake: John Scopes Trial

Topics: Creationism, Scopes Trial, Butler Act Pages: 7 (1649 words) Published: June 10, 2014


James P. Collins
What Was at Stake? Analyzing the Significance of the Scopes Monkey Trial for American Education

Analytical Introduction

This article was written to remind students and teachers of the past historical events which served to shape current American education trends, standards, policies, and norms. In writing this piece, I hope to highlight a pivotal point in American education history when the right to think and question and status quo was threatened. I carefully contemplated my audience and wrote my paper for this particular demographic of the population. I knew that my audience was educated and had at least a nominal understanding of the Scopes Monkey Trial. I assumed that most people had read or watched Inherit the Wind sometime in their life and were privy to the basic tenants of the court case; therefore, I did not go into detail explaining the specifics of the court trial. Instead, I used my page space to highlight just how important the verdict was and the specific rights which were at stake. The paper topic was chosen in response to Chapter Four: Making History. I firmly believe that the Scopes Trial is one of the most significant events in American education history and was motivated to explore it in more thorough detail.

I used several methods and modes to develop my paper. First, I started out with a directed introduction and strong thesis statement, followed by an outline of three specific areas I would explore in the paper. I then took the time to carefully walk my reader through these three points and show how they built on one another. Finally, I concluded my paper by drawing all the elements together and summarizing my overarching message.
What Was at Stake? Analyzing the Significance of the Scopes Monkey Trial for American Education
Made famous by Robert Lee and Jerome Lawrence’s award winning play Inherit the Wind, which was later turned into a movie starring Hollywood icon Spencer Tracy, the Scopes Monkey Trial holds a prominent place in American education history. Formally known as the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes Trial, this legal proceeding took place in 1925 and pitted Scopes, a lowly substitute teacher and his famous defense attorney Clarence Darrow against three-time presidential hopeful and fundamentalist minister William Jennings Bryan. (Johnson, 2007). While, on the surface, the trial was centered on Scopes breaking a state law by teaching evolution in the classroom, an in-depth analysis of the situation suggests that much more than the fate of one teacher was at stake. In fact, the outcome of the trial would determine whether the U.S. education system would be dictated by modern science or theology, critical thought or dogma, free speech or doctrine. To better understand the extent to which liberty and progress were threatened, it is necessary to look at the particular law Scopes was accused of violating. To analyze the premises and presuppositions on which the law was based, and explore the two possible outcomes and what each would mean for the future of education. Analyzing the Law

Scopes was accused of violating the Butler Act – a 1925 Tennessee mandate which declared that public school teachers were not permitted to teach any material that denied the biblical account of humankind’s creation, as outlined in the first several chapters of Genesis. Simultaneously, the law prohibited the...


References: Armytage, W. H. (1978). Backup to Butler: The biosocial background of the Butler Act. Westminster Studies in Education, 1(1), 5-21.
Johnson, A. J. (2007). The Scopes "Monkey Trial." Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics.
Tennessee Butler Act. (1925, January 1). Tennesse Anti-evolution Statute - UMKC School of Law. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/tennstat.htm
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