Were You There?

A 10th-grader perches on the edge of her chair as her biology teacher lectures on evolution. She listens intently. The years she’s spent in Sunday school and church services have prepared her for this very moment. Her hand shoots up, and the teacher calls her name. Breathless, she asks a question.

“How do you know evolution really happened? Were you there?”I was that student, and I remember the knot that formed in my stomach whenever my high school science teacher directed class discussion toward that dreaded E-word. I remember the day I asked him if he was there when an ape evolved into a human. Some of my classmates rolled their eyes. I wasn’t even trying to make a joke about his age. For me it was a serious question, almost sacred.

Terry Wortman was my science teacher from my sophomore through senior years, and he is still teaching in my hometown, at Hayes Center Public High School in Hayes Center, Nebraska. He still occasionally hears the question I asked 16 years ago, and he has a standard response. “I don’t want to interfere with a kid’s belief system,” he says. “But I tell them, ‘I’m going to teach you the science. I’m going to tell you what all respected science says.’ ” Read more at Slate.