This assembly examines our concept of the ‘hero’ and considers the extent to which Charles Darwin was heroic in his proposal of the theory of evolution by natural selection

Resources

The website for Darwin Day is at http://www.darwinday.org.

Engagement

[This engagement could be done using the whole assembly group or by taking a small group of pupils to the front of the assembly. If using a small group, points could be awarded – 3 for getting it after clue 1, 2 for after clue 2 and 1 for after clue 3. There could be lots of ad-libbing and general encouragement after each clue, with the assembly discussing answers as you go]

Leader: You’re now going to play a game of ‘Guess the Hero’. Each reader will describe their hero for you in three clues and you must try to guess them correctly. They’ll pause after each clue to let you guess the answer. The quicker you guess, the more points you’ll get.

Reader 1: Here are the clues to my hero:

Firstly, he’s faster than a speeding train [pause after each clue and throughout, and the leader may wish to discuss them with audience].

Secondly, he’s not from this world.

Thirdly he has a large letter ‘S’ on his chest. [Answer – Superman]

Reader 2: Clue one for my hero: she has superpowers

Clue two – her everyday name was Diana

Clue three – she wielded the ‘lasso of truth’. [Answer – Wonder Woman]

Reader 3: Here are my clues – bet you won’t get this one.

Clue one – he’s an ordinary kid by day:

Clue two – he can climb walls.

Clue three – he catches the bad guys in his web. [Answer –Spider Man]

Reader 4: First clue is that he’s a ‘caped crusader’.

Second clue is that he lives in a stately manor.

Third clue is that his sidekick is Robin. [Answer – Batman]

Reader 5: Right – you will never get this one.

First clue – he’s a future law enforcer.

Second clue – he rides a “Lawmaster motorbike”.

Third clue – he has golden shoulder pads in the shape of an eagle. [Answer – Judge Dredd]

Reader 6: First clue – there’s more than one of them.

Second clue – they each have different abilities.

Third clue – one’s a thing. [Answer – The Fantastic Four]

Reader 7: Clue one- he kept his ideas to himself for many years.

Clue two – Many of his ideas came from things he learned in his garden.

The third clue: He was born exactly 200 years ago today [amend wording in relation to date, his birthday was 12 February 1809] [Answer – Charles Darwin]

Reflection

Leader: We’ve just heard about seven different kinds of heroes. All superheroes standing up for truth and what they believed to be right, including the only non-fictional one, Charles Darwin [add ‘born 200 years ago today’ if appropriate].

Why might you have wondered about adding someone like Darwin to this list? After all – he was a scientist who mostly kept himself to himself. He mainly did research and wrote books and, interestingly, kept most of his theories and discoveries quite quiet for many many years. He wasn’t famous in the kind of way that modern heroes are, and he didn’t have any so-called superpowers like the comic book heroes. He wasn’t even famous in the way that others of his own generation were famous, such as great explorers and musical performers and great warriors. He lived a rather quiet life in a nice house in the Kent countryside. Hardly heroic sounding stuff is it? He didn’t fight crime or save planets from the bad guys, or score a winning goal at some big football event. In fact, during his lifetime most people probably knew very little about him, and many of those who did probably thought that he was not at all the kind of person you’d think of as a hero.

Perhaps what is wrong here is our idea of a hero? Darwin changed the world and the way we look at things. He opened the door to a whole new and, at the time, radical way of thinking – one which is still with us today and upon which many of the great developments in science have been founded. As well as all that, as if that weren’t enough to place anyone in the hero category, he developed the theory and got it recognised against formidable opposition. He risked his reputation as a scientist, and also the comfort of his family life, as he proposed a theory which even his wife was worried about. He took on the most powerful people of his day and did so quietly; sticking to his idea even though those closest to him had grave doubts. He did all of this with self-assurance and great courage of conviction, arguing that his theory was right and true.

Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection can still provoke anger and discomfort in some today. It can still produce heated debate. Richard Attenborough, in a recent edition of the TV magazine the Radio Times expressed his support for Darwin’s evolutionary theory and this apparently led to some unpleasant mail – not something he usually receives. Darwin’s theory challenges the beliefs of some people still – and has lost little of its power to challenge and make us question the very nature of who we are.

Darwin himself was at times troubled by the implications of his theory. His wife Emma, a devout Christian, was also concerned about the effect his theory might have on religious beliefs. We can only imagine some of the conversations they must have had. There may well have been times when Darwin wished he’d never made public his theory of evolution.

But, whether you accept his theory or question it, you must admire his heroism in getting it heard. He published his theory even though he knew that it would be highly controversial and would probably make him many enemies. He even knew it might cause uproar and result in challenges and criticism and powerful opposition, but he published it anyway – not because he wanted fame and fortune, or prizes or adulation. He published it because he thought it was right and that people should know what he believed to be the truth.

Darwin was a hero because he stood up for what he believed in, no matter what the consequences of that might be. You don’t get much more heroic than that. Could you be that kind of hero?

Response

Reader 1: So I could be a hero just by standing up for what I believe in?
Reader 2: Just for saying this is right and that is wrong?
Reader 3: Just for sticking to my principles?
Reader 4: I don’t have to be rich or famous or anything?
Reader 5: I don’t need superpowers?
Reader 6: I can be ordinary?
Reader 7: I can just be me?

Leader: Darwin’s heroism was no less meaningful because it was a quiet heroism in the pursuit of understanding. Be a hero today.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2009

About the author: Joe Walker is Head of RE & Psychology at Liberton High School in Edinburgh. As well as being a well-known author he was winner of Secondary Teacher of the Year at the Scottish Education awards 2005.

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