May 14, 2009

Alfred Kinsey, famous for his studies of human sexuality, was also a pioneer in the teaching of biology.

Kinsey’s 1926 textbook, An Introduction to Biology (reissued with minor revisions in 1933 and 1938 as A New Introduction to Biology) is considered one of the best biology textbooks of the era. Kinsey, it has been widely noted, was the only scientist to author a popular high school textbook. Almost all others were written by professional educators.

Methods in Biology, provides an interesting glimpse into how a scientist in the 1930s counseled prospective teachers on how to navigate potential issues when handling the “related” topics of eugenics and evolution.

Two interesting quotes: First, concerning eugenics, Kinsey writes, “Only recently have there been indications that eugenics is going to find a permanent place both in high school and college teaching. Events of the last decade have made the younger generation wonder how far genetic factors account for the dependence of a third of the population on the other two-thirds, even in times of prosperity.” Second, regarding evolution, Kinsey writes, “The biology teacher who cannot present evolution without offending a community is probably indiscreet in the handling of the material.”

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