It’s Not Just an Art Contest

Dale McGowan‘s daughter Delaney recently won an Evolution & Art Contest sponsored by Charlie’s Playhouse.

Delaney imagined a monkey that got stranded on an island with “hard nuts, quiet predators, and purple bushes and trees.” Here’s what she wrote about how the monkey evolves:

“The monkey evolved sharp teeth to crack hard nuts, large ears to hear predators, and purple-polka-dotted skin to blend in with the trees and bushes.”

Not a bad way of thinking for a budding young science whiz :)

Her family was very proud of this accomplishment so they let her teachers know. The principal even decided to interview her on the school’s daily news show! (9-year-old me would be thrilled by this.)

Just one problem with how the news show was going to explain her victory… according to Dale’s wife:

“… Ms. Warner said they’re not going to call it an ‘Evolution & Art’ contest — just an ‘Art’ contest. When I asked why, she said, ‘Because evolution is not in the curriculum.’ I said yes it is, it’s in the high school curriculum, and she said, ‘But it’s not in the elementary curriculum, so it’ll just be described as an ‘Art’ contest.’”

Dale couldn’t believe this:

It wasn’t an art contest, you see. Delaney’s accomplishment had been scientific, not artistic. The drawing is dandy, but it’s just a way of expressing her grasp of the science. To have her school — savor that for a moment, her school — not only disregard her achievement, but send her the message that it’s something to be hidden, to be ashamed of…

You can read on his site how he handled the situation. (Spoiler: Yay for good adminstrators and parents willing to speak up!)

Dale also offers a few suggestions to other parents who may find themselves having to defend their own beliefs, church-state separation, or proper science.

Hopefully, you won’t ever be in a similar situation, but it’s nice to know that all hope is not lost — even in the South .

  • littlejohn

    OK, it’s a picture of – what? A critter with a cat’s tail and rabbit ears? What scientific accomplishment is that?
    I’m not making fun. Maybe this represents something from a zoological perspective.
    Why does the cat-rabbit have teeth on only one side of its mouth?
    Can someone explain this to me? I’m just a liberal arts grad, so I’m probably missing something obvious.

  • GG

    OK, it’s a picture of – what? A critter with a cat’s tail and rabbit ears? What scientific accomplishment is that?
    I’m not making fun. Maybe this represents something from a zoological perspective.
    Why does the cat-rabbit have teeth on only one side of its mouth?
    Can someone explain this to me? I’m just a liberal arts grad, so I’m probably missing something obvious.

    These were my thoughts exactly. But if you read the article, it becomes more obvious. The task was:

    Imagine an island with a unique environment. Choose an existing animal to put on the island. Fast forward a million years or so and imagine how the animal would evolve as a result of that environment. Draw a picture of the evolved animal.

    and the girl’s explanation was:

    “The island has purple polka-dotted trees and bushes and quiet predators,” she explained. “And the only food is hard nuts. So after a long, long time, the monkeys evolve to have purple polka dots, huge ears to hear the predators, and sharp teeth to crack the nuts.”

    Which I think is actually a reasonable demonstration of an understanding of natural selection. It wouldn’t have hurt to put that in the main post though.

  • sven

    Wow, these people are heroes. It’s good to see willful ignorance being punished.

  • Nathan

    That is an awesome contest! I liked looking at some of the other entries as well – particularly the one with evolutionary perspective on poop. Really awesome.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    The explanation is now included!

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    The only thing that would have been better would be to indicate a sub-population of the evolved monkey species holding fast to some primitive belief that the species was placed there in present form 4000 years ago and that everyone will go to some kind of monkey hell unless they bow down and worship a savior monkey. And the “Young Island Creationists” control the school systems and forbid the word “evolution” to be used in all art contests about evolution.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    The obligatory You-Tube video on monkey Jesus

  • KeithLM

    Hey everybody, be sure to read the next two posts on the blog. There’s more to the story.

  • http://http//www.villageatheist.org Drew

    I had heard about this contest, almost got my 5 year old to enter it. He almost has a grasp of what evolution is but not quite there yet. I honestly think evolution should be in every elementary curriculum, but if not, I’ll be sure to have my kid well ahead on the science curve since I’m a science nerd myself. He can already tell you why the dinosaurs are extinct, the day phases of the moon, etc. I love my little scientific 5 year old. :)

  • JustAGuy

    I love this assignment. My wife and I have been looking for a school for our 6 year old. If I saw a school that had this kind of activity, it would immediately make the short list.

    What a cool, creative, critical thinking assignment! That teacher gets an A.

  • Lauren

    @Justaguy

    it was not an assignment from a teacher. in fact the teacher is the one who wanted to get rid of the word “evolution” It was a national contest that had nothing to do with the school.

  • balls

    but the principal is on the up and up.

  • http://www.phoenixgarage.org/ cr0sh

    @Lauren: It wasn’t a teacher (not saying she doesn’t have a degree in education, which I don’t know, but that she wasn’t employed as a teacher), but an assistant administrator (Ms. Warner) that “warned” Delaney (the student) about using the word “evolution”.

    Overall, that was a great set of posts, and I think I have a new blog to read now and again (since I am not a parent – I’m not sure how often I’ll read it). The first one excited, then disappointed me by Ms. Warner’s response, the second dismayed and infuriated me that someone could confuse such a knowledgeable child in that fashion, and the third gave me a bit of hope…

    I really wish “this” (all of it – the whole of the irrational mindset that a majority of our species seems to be in love with) wasn’t an issue, especially here in America. I read comments on other forums from those in Britain, Europe and elsewhere who look at us, scratching their heads and wondering “why?” – some are ever fearful that we seem to have such an overtly religious and backwards populace, coupled with a nuclear arsenal so huge it defies imagination the “hell on earth” that could be unleashed.

    To be seen this way – to know that I and my fellow citizens are seen this way – as backwards, as a place not to visit, as a place with low education, as a place to laugh at…

    I just don’t know what to say anymore.

  • Chas

    My daughter was a child judge for the contest sponsored by Charlie’s Playhouse. When we reviewed the entries we were really impressed with the level of thinking that went into each entry.

    We were really dismayed that Delaney had so much trouble at her school. My daughter couldn’t imagine what she would have done.

    Luckily there are people like her parents and principal that had her back.

  • http://twitter.com/jtradke jtradke

    You guys are all subscribed to the Parenting Beyond Belief blog, right? It’s not just about parenting. Dale’s an extremely talented writer and a brilliant secular thinker.

  • Nordog

    Why does the cat-rabbit have teeth on only one side of its mouth?

    Because it’s a work in progess?

  • littlejohn

    Thanks for the explanation. She has a very good imagination.
    I wonder if the predators who eat this critter have also evolved to defeat its camouflage. Rose-colored glasses, maybe.


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