Science for Survival: The Modern Synthesis of Evolution and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study
- Author(s): Green, Lisa Anne
- Advisor(s): Nash, Margaret A.
- et al.
In this historical dissertation, I examined the process of curriculum development in the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) in the United States during the period 1959-1963. The presentation of evolution in the high school texts was based on a more robust form of Darwinian evolution which developed during the 1930s and 1940s called "the modern synthesis of evolution." Building primarily on the work of historians Vassiliki Smocovitis and John L. Rudolph, I used the archival papers and published writings of the four architects of the modern synthesis and the four most influential leaders of the BSCS in regards to evolution to investigate how the modern synthetic theory of evolution shaped the BSCS curriculum.
The central question was "Why was evolution so important to the BSCS to make it the central theme of the texts?" Important answers to this question had already been offered in the historiography, but it was still not clear why every citizen in the world needed to understand evolution. I found that the emphasis on natural selection in the modern synthesis shifted the focus away from humans as passive participants to the recognition that humans are active agents in their own cultural and biological evolution. This required re-education of the world citizenry, which was accomplished in part by the BSCS textbooks. I also found that BSCS leaders Grobman, Glass, and Muller had serious concerns regarding the effects of nuclear radiation on the human gene pool, and were actively involved in informing th public. Lastly, I found that concerns of 1950s reform eugenicists were addressed in the BSCS textbooks, without mentioning eugenics by name. I suggest that the leaders of the BSCS, especially Bentley Glass and Hermann J. Muller, thought that students needed to understand genetics and evolution to be able to make some of the tough choices they might be called on to make as the dominant species on earth and the next reproductive generation in the nuclear age. This was science for survival.