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'Darwin talk' at Turkish school goes to court, sparks new debate

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 1/24/2011 12:00:00 AM |

A warning issued to a primary school teacher for talking about Darwinian evolutionary theory during class has sparked a debate over whether education in Turkey is becoming more religious.

A warning issued to a primary school teacher for talking about Darwinian evolutionary theory during class has sparked a debate over whether education in Turkey is becoming more religious.

“The real motive behind the warning is the conflict between those who are trying to build education on a religious basis and those looking to scientific origins,” Zübeyde Kılıç, head of Education and Science Personnel Union, or Eğitim-Sen, a trade union defending the rights of teachers and contemporary education, told daily Radikal on Monday. She said a law case would be opened in the administrative court to annul the warning soon.

Süleyman Biçer, who has been teaching for more than 14 years, received a warning for talking about Darwinian evolutionary theory in response to a question posed by one of his students. Biçer, a teacher at the Mamak Trade Chamber Elementary School in Ankara, replied to a question from one of his students on the subject of whether human beings came from monkeys. The teacher reportedly told the class how human beings and other species have evolved over many years.

Following the class, the student reportedly told his parents about the remarks, leading the mother of the fifth-grade student to file a complaint against Biçer, claiming that the teacher had told students that monkeys were human beings’ ancestors and that he had also read the Bible during class. The student’s mother petitioned the Provincial Education Directorate, leading the Mamak Provincial Education Directorate to launch an investigation into the claims, with nine of Biçer’s 42 students called to testify.

After three of the students confirmed that Biçer talked about Darwin during the class, a report was prepared by officials indicating that Darwin’s evolutionary was not officially in the fifth-grade curriculum. Evolutionary theory does not even figure in eighth-grade curriculum, the report said. Biçer received a warning from the school administration.

“The teacher did not lecture about Darwinian theory. He replied to a question,” Kılıç said. “We want students who question everything but we issue warnings to teachers just because they stepped out of the lines of the curriculum.”

The debate on Darwinian theory is not something new. In early 2009, a huge uproar was caused when the cover story of a publication by Turkey’s Research and Science Council, or TÜBİTAK, was pulled allegedly because it focused on Darwin’s theory of evolution. The incident led to intense criticism and resulted in finger-pointing by various officials of that publication and its parent institute. A few months later, the same article appeared as the publication’s cover story.

Kılıç believes the reason behind these moves is that the Education Ministry favors the creationist approaches and refutes the Darwinian theory of evolution. Education Ministry officials were not available for comment.

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