Teaching: Not Just Monkey Business

Teaching: Not Just Monkey Business


Eden Farber
Eden Farber

Have you ever seen a monkey turn into a person? No?

I haven’t either, and neither had a speaker that I heard last week. But that doesn’t mean evolution is a fabrication.

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The subject of evolution (or lack thereof) was really just a tangent, as the speech I attended was about microbiology (disclaimer: the speech was supposedly in a Jewish Modern Orthodox setting). Nevertheless, it is sometimes the tangents – the things we improvise, or the moments of spontaneity – that are the most important. They reveal the speaker’s real beliefs and opinions.

So you can imagine my dismay as I realized that the science lecture to which I was listening was actually full of anti-science rhetoric. A few choice excerpts:

“If you want to believe that [evolution]…”

“G-d didn’t have to do it this way, and G-d can change it whenever He [sic] wants!”

“My rav told me not to take that class, so of course, I didn’t.”

It kept building up through the course of lecture until it finally came out as blatantly as possible: “I don’t believe in evolution.”

What does she mean ‘believe’? I wondered. Can I just not ‘believe’ in gravity? Will that mean I’m exempt from the laws of it?

Belief dictating one’s life can be a beautiful thing – but today, I’m here to make a plea for boundaries.

I took a biology course a couple years ago, and it probably turned me off to science for a long time. Being young, energetic, ready to learn and a bit too naïve I would question every concept that to me seemed bizarre.

Why does it work that way? What happens if that part of the body doesn’t do its job – will another part do it for them? How do you think our day-to-day life would be different if humans had only one leg?

And at almost every instance, my teacher would respond with, “That’s just the way G-d did it, honey.”

I was not left frustrated and unsatisfied because I did not believe in G-d – I did. I was left frustrated and unsatisfied because it was not a question of whether G-d give us two legs; it was a question of how our legs work, which is something science teaches us.

Perhaps science is a mystery G-d put on Earth, but it’s one we ought to try to solve. We, the detectives of planet, are here to answer the unanswerable and question the unquestionable – that’s what science is.

Thus, to ignore the fact that that humans have made inconceivably fantastic discoveries about our world and ourselves – as we have with the study of evolution – seems unjust. I was ready to learn biology from the discoveries of the great thinkers of our world, ready to understand on my own terms the world G-d gave us, but all I was given was a harshly dismissive response.

There is a time and a place for everything. There’s a time to stress and a time to relax; a time to laugh and a time to cry; a time to preach and a time to teach. When you’re in a position of authority, reading these situations and responding appropriately is something you must take seriously. People look up to you, and whatever you say has an immediate connotation of authority.

Therefore, everything you say must be considered very carefully. If you’re teaching about Republican theories of economics, don’t let your libertarian biases show; it won’t show a fair or accurate representation of the theory, and it could sway students without them even knowing.

The job of an educational speaker is to present their information, not to subversively persuade them of your own beliefs. Thus in a science lecture, it is not the role of the speaker to negate the very core principals of science on the basis of personal faith.

Whether one believes personally in evolution or not, science accepts it. And representing a widely accepted scientific theory as mere speculation (let alone heretical speculation) is not appropriate in the context. After all, what a teacher, speaker, or role model says can change a person’s life.

I think, within the context of teaching, it’s important to make sure one’s words are helping the listeners grow on their own, not twisting the listener to one’s personal agenda. When it comes to science, every student should have a chance to learn it better than a fairy tale or myth.

It’s our world, after all.

Atlanta’s Eden Farber, 16, was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.


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