Monday, November 14, 2011

In Defense of Darwin: The Berlusconi Government (Specifically, 2001-2005)

During Berlusconi’s political reign as Prime Minister of Italy, international media focused on airing his “dirty laundry”: rape allegations, sex parties with underage girls, mafia connections and racist slurs. After Silvio Berlusconi’s reluctant resignation on Saturday, I thought it would be fitting to write about a change his government tried to implement in the Italian educational curriculum from 2001-2005. The fact that during these years the Berlusconi government attempted a revisionist history of Darwin’s life, complete with obliteration of all evolutionist teachings, in favor of Roman Catholic ideological education, has rarely been an international “hot topic” in conversation.

{To clarify: I spent the past spring abroad in Ferrara, Italy. I enrolled directly at the local university and all my classes were in Italian, with local Italian students. For one of my courses “Man, Evolution, Environment” I read In difesa di Darwin (In Defense of Darwin), an essay turned into a small book, written by Professor Telmo Pievani who teaches at the University of Milan. If I had not taken this course, I would not have known about antievolutionist curriculums in Italy.}

In his synopsis of public education during these years Pievani criticizes the failed attempt of the Berlusconi government to remove evolution from the curriculum of middle schools and their attempt to cast doubt onto the legitimacy of Darwinian evolution. Italy remains largely Roman Catholic (think Vatican, Pope, etc.), a religion that teaches creationism. Pievani describes a covert operation of sorts, in which church leaders and the Pope conspired to eradicate evolution and to portray Darwin as a lunatic scientist, with unfounded scientific hypotheses. Pievani also insists that the government fired teachers who taught curriculums that incorporated evolution in order to replace them with religiously trained officials who were trained to teach creationism. The Berlusconi government was able to overthrow the system, but all changes made were short lived. Many school officials defended their curriculums and evolution was eventually reinstated into curriculums.

Pievani’s short essay served as a reminder to me that it is easy to forget the controversy that continues to envelop evolution; the manner in which evolution is taught remains a global topic chock-full of debate. Even in the “melting pot” of the world, the United States, contention exists. A good example is the state of Texas: In 2009 the New York Times published an article that highlights the current debate in Texas schools over how evolution should be taught and who has the right to publish, then distribute what content in regard to textbooks that contain correct information about evolution and Darwin. To conclude, some bigger questions are 1. when evolution will be accepted as a scientifically proven process? and 2. how can teachers successfully explain evolution in a sensitive way that will not undermine a child’s religious teachings?

No comments:

Post a Comment