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What does the curriculum of the 1920's tell us about the values of the time?

The 1920's was not all "roaring" as we shall see today. There were many, especially those in power who preached conservatism and moderation. America turned towards the right, we were a religious god fearing nation. This religious zealotry brought about serious constitutional questions. Ones that have yet to fully answered.

The Scopes Monkey Trial - 1925 - In 1925 in Dayton Tennessee a group of teachers decided to test a law called the Butler Law. The Butler law made it illegal to teach the theory of evolution and instead mandated the biblical interpretation of creationism. The teachers felt that academic freedom and integrity as well as separation of church and state was at stake. Twenty four year old science teacher and football coach John T. Scopes would teach the class. Knowing he would be arrested Scopes taught the class and set into motion one of the most important trials in American history.

Scopes was arrested, as expected, for violating the Butler Law. At the ensuing trial William Jennings Bryan (Yes, the Populist guy!) acted as special prosecutor. World famous criminal defense lawyer Clarence Darrow defended Scopes. The trial raged on for days. The judge did not allow any of Darrow's scientists to testify and public sentiment in the Bible Belt was against Scopes. Bryan portrayed Darrow as an agnostic and atheist. In desperation Darrow put Bryan himself on the stand. Darrow brilliantly was able to get Bryan to admit that the word of the bible is not literal, it was interpreted. This seemed to destroy the whole case. Darrow asked for immediate judgment and when the jury came back Darrow was shocked...he had lost! The judge levied the minimum fine possible ($100) against Scopes. Later that year the Scopes conviction was overturned on a technicality.

What did all this prove? Well for one it showed the religious and conservative nature of America. It also displayed the vast differences between the big cities and the small towns. The big city newspapers covering the trial scoffed at the Butler Law as small minded and archaic. In the cities Scopes was a hero but in Dayton Tennessee he was a criminal.

America was left with many questions. Were we to be a modern nation, the nation of Lindbergh and the roaring twenties or were we to be the nation of religious right wing conservatives? Only time would tell.

For a more in depth summary of the Scopes Monkey Trial click here.

For a great site on the 1920's click here.

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