Scopes Trial

Contributor: Sarah Lerdal. Lesson ID: 11109

The Scopes Trial fueled a battle that continues today about who decides what is taught in public schools. Join, and write about, the battle!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Who has the right to decide what should be taught in public schools in America?
  • Do you believe this should be a local, state, or national decision?

In the 1920s, both religious fundamentalism and the number of high-school graduates were growing.

Devout Christians in America became concerned about communists taking over the Soviet Union. At home, these Christians saw a rise in violent crime, a growth in materialism, and the changing role of women.

(Explore the Elephango lessons found under Additional Resources in the right-hand sidebar for more on the 1920s.)

Their uncertainty in the world led to a rise in fundamentalism, which is a Christian belief that every word in the Bible is literal truth.

Fundamentalism grew the most in rural America. These fundamentalists believed that all of life's important questions, like the world's origin, could be better answered by the Bible than by what was taught in schools.

At the same time, more students were attending and graduating high school. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 8.6% of all 17-year-olds graduated from high school in 1910. By 1930, that percentage had grown to 28.8.

George Washington Rappleyea and John Thomas Scopes taken the month before the Tennessee v. John T. Scopes Trial in June 1925

It was only a matter of time before the tension between schools and religious fundamentalists came to a head. That happened in 1925 during one of the most famous trials ever.

To better understand this period, explore the resources below.

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This case symbolized the debate between creationists and evolutionists.

Teacher John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution; however, the case's outcome did not settle the debate over the origin of life between these two groups.

  • Why do you think the conflict between creationists and evolutionists continues today?

Continue to the Got It? section to uncover some background on the trial and its times.

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