A Binghamton University professor has become one of three individuals selected nationwide to receive the Friend of Darwin award.
Adam Laats, a professor of history and education, was selected by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) to receive the award. The Friend of Darwin award is given to those who help advance the NSCE’s mission of supporting science education in public schools, according to the NSCE’s website. According to Laats, the increasing politicization of public schools and the desire to control what is taught in them is causing an effect felt across the country.
Laats emphasized that he felt most connected to the practice of helping to bridge gaps between people who view mainstream science as false information and those with opposite beliefs.
“Yes, it’s about science, but it’s about a lot more than science,” Laats said. “It’s about the need to somehow find ways, and this is what the NCSE does so well, which is yes, they are advocates for climate change evolution, evolution education. But what they are really about, in my opinion, and what my work contributes its little might to the effort, is to bridge these seemingly unbridgeable gaps between people who think things [that the other side thinks] are just impossible.”
Matthew McConn, associate professor of English and department chair of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership (TLEL), emphasized how Laats deserved the honor and privilege of being named a recipient.
“This award comes as no surprise,” McConn said. “Dr. Laats is clearly our most recognized scholar, and yet he couldn’t be more humble about it. His level of expertise and success is also evident in his teaching. I have worked with the same students as Dr. Laats, and they unanimously agree that Adam Laats is one of our best professors here in TLEL.”
According to the NCSE’s website, the award was given to Laats due to his work on documenting controversies of education dating back to the Scopes Trial, an event that took place in July of 1925 over one instructor’s decision to teach evolution in a public school at a time when that was illegal. It is seen by many historians as the first instance for public debate over who controls what is taught in publicly funded schools.
Laats has written multiple books on the subject, his most recent one being “Creationism USA: Bridging the Impasse on Teaching Evolution (2020),” and has also had several essays published in publications like The Washington Post and The Atlantic.
Several students expressed their admiration for Laats’ work. Meghan McMahon, a freshman majoring in political science, expressed her desire to remove politics from public education.
“I feel like we should keep politics out of education,” McMahon said. “Especially our political views, because in a way we are influencing teachers, especially because what they teach is really important to kids, and like what they give off, and what they are teaching them ultimately will follow kids throughout their years, and like what they teach and their opinions, they’re going to influence these kids and it could be detrimental.”
Leila Joseph, an undecided freshman, expressed how she was thrilled that a BU professor won such an award.
“I’m beyond proud and fascinated to have a professor that won such a prestigious award,” Joseph wrote. “And I’m very excited to learn from [him] as well as follow in his footsteps.”
The NCSE’s Friend of Darwin award is given annually to people or organizations “whose efforts to support NCSE and advance its goals have been truly outstanding,” according to the NCSE website. Previous recipients have included Mohamed Noor, a Star Trek science advisor, and Carl Zimmer, a popular science author.
Laats explained that he felt honored to have received the award.
“I really feel like I’ve been snuck in the back door of a really fancy and delightful club, and I love it,” Laats said. “I’m not leaving. I’m going to sit down and enjoy it while I’m here. Like I said, I’m a big fan of the NCSE. I’m super honored that they thought my work was contributing something to their efforts.”