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Three stages of human evolution, looking more like a modern man from left to right. Pencil drawings on a tan background

LAST SPRING, Paul Strode gave an unusual survey to his advanced biology students at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado. The first five questions were:

Exploring the culture of science.

1. Define as best you can: What is a racial group?
2. Define as best you can: What is an ethnic group?
3. Define as best you can: What is meant by the term genetic ancestry?
4. True or False: There is too much overlap between racial groups to use a single biological trait (like skin color) to distinguish one racial group from another.
5. True or False: When several traits are combined they can be used to distinguish one racial group from another.

“In terms of wading into the idea of gender identification, differences between racial groups and so forth, we regard those as potential firestorms, if we were to go there.”

The next day, Strode showed his students — all seniors — their aggregated results. On some questions, the students were mostly in agreement. More than 80 percent of them, for example, correctly marked Question...