Darwin back in Italy's schools

Science and education minister changes her mind on teaching evolutionary theory

Apr 29, 2004
Rossella Lorenzi(Lorenzi@tin.it)

Pressed by a petition signed by some of the country's top scientists, and inundated by thousands of protest E-mails and faxes, Italy's minister of education, universities, and research, Letizia Moratti, reconsidered on Wednesday evening (April 28) her position on the teaching of evolution, stating that the theory will be taught starting from primary school.

"The current school reform does not have rigid programs. It features national guidelines that establish the main teaching principles, allowing teachers to adapt the program according to the context and the pupils," Moratti said in a statement.

"It is absolutely false that the ministry banned the teaching of evolution theories in primary and secondary schools. The discussion of Darwin's theories will be included in the education of all students from 6 to 18 years, according to gradual teaching criteria," she said.

To reinforce her point, Moratti also appointed a committee specifically to provide guidelines for evolutionary theory teaching at various stages. Chaired by Nobel Laureate Rita Levi Montalcini, one of the top scientists who signed the protest petition, and featuring Nobel Laureate Carlo Rubbia, geneticist Roberto Colombo, and biologist Vittorio Sgaramella, the committee is Moratti's answer to the "controversies of the past few days."

"On my side, I will try to give space to different views about evolution. The most important thing is to give the appropriate importance to science in school programs, embracing broader views. I am happy to contribute. It is always a good idea to confront each other," Sgaramella told The Scientist.

Established by legislative decree on February 19, the new teaching programs for secondary schools made no mention of the history of human evolution, nor of the relationship between mankind and other species.

On April 23, some of the country's top scientists launched the petition through the daily La Repubblica to reintroduce the teaching among students aged 12 to 14. The document urged Moratti to "review the secondary schools programs and to rectify an oversight which is detrimental to the scientific culture of future generations."

Fearing the measure could pave the way for creationist teaching, more than 45,000 citizens joined the scientists in the appeal.

"Moratti proved to be an open-minded and very intelligent person. Not everybody is able to listen and then reconsider in a critical way his or her ideas and positions," Umberto Veronesi, director of the European Institute of Oncology in Milan and former health minister, who also signed the petition, wrote in La Repubblica.