National Geographic : 2001 Sep
DAYTON, TENNESSEE Scopes taught at the old county high school, on a hill overlooking the town. The present-day high school is a low brick building that sits in farmland ten miles away. There is an after-school Bible Club and, once upon a time not too long ago, prayers at graduation. When I asked if evolution was part of the curriculum, Pat Conner, the principal, replied, "We teach-no, we 'present'-everything in the biology textbook, with a little less emphasis on the controversial parts." He spoke carefully and would say no more. Evolution was being taught, albeit grudgingly. "The thing that is most difficult for us to accept here is that there are different religious beliefs," sighed Conner. I asked him about a man, a lawyer, who had recently moved to Day ton from a northern city.When his child reported there were Bible read ings in school, he pointed out the violation of federal law, and the school superintendent stopped the readings. An uproar ensued. Rumors flew that the school district was being sued; citizens suggested starting a legal defense fund. "He didn't understand the community'"Conner said. "Suppose you had taken the man aside beforehand," I said. "What advice would you have offered?" Conner, a local, thought awhile. "I would have tried to alert him," he replied. "I'd have said: 'Look, do you want to cause your family trouble? This is a rural, conservative place, and very emotional about religion. Attack religion and the Crusades begin. But you need to follow your own convictions.'" Dayton has endured 75 years of outsider scorn because of Scopes. If it circles the wagons against outsiders, it is not hard to see why. There's a sense here that people who have not walked in your shoes don't have a clue. Often, they don't. On the way to interview Conner, I'd crossed an elevated walkway linking the gymnasium to the main building. Through the windows you can spot a thread of stream that spills down from the mountain and slips under the walkway. Quotes from people like Alexander Pope and Thomas Edison decorate the walls. They are inspirational, as befits an institution of learning, and there was one I particularly liked. "It takes two to speak the truth,-one to speak, and another to hear." -HENRY DAVID THOREAU 0 ON OUR WEBSITE There's more on 37321 at national geographic.com/ngm/0109. Tell us why we should cover YOUR FAVORITE ZIP CODE at nationalgeographic.com/ngm /zipcode/0109 or mail your suggestion to PO Box 96095, Washington, DC 20090 6095. E-mail: zip@national geographic.com At the "liars' table" in the Dayton Coffee Shoppe, locals fork up tall tales along with biscuits and gravy atop a community portrait under glass.