Kansas School Board in International Spotlight . . . Again

by Pam Sheppard on May 10, 2005

Last week the Kansas Board of Education took center stage again with its public courtroom-style hearing on how origins is to be taught in public-school science classes.

It has been six years since Kansas USA captured international attention with its debate over the teaching of evolution (see Here’s the Scoop—What’s Really in the Standards!), but last week the Kansas Board of Education took center stage again with its public courtroom-style hearing on how origins is to be taught in public-school science classes. And of course, the international media, including the Times (UK) and ABC-TV’s Nightline-in a May 9 program “Science vs. Religion”-are comparing the four-day Kansas hearings to the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee.

The hearings, which the Washington Post (in a May 6 article) referred to as “the highest profile confrontation over evolutionary theory in years, pitting corps of anti-Darwinists against a scientific establishment that considers the evidence of the chemical and biological origins of life to be beyond dispute,” began last Thursday (May 5). Last week, the hearings included three days of testimonies from over two dozen critics of evolution, including scientists and advocates of intelligent design who believe the scientific controversy about evolution should be added to the school curriculum. While they are not asking that intelligent design be mandated, they are asking for it to be permitted.

“If you outlaw it [intelligent design], you’re endorsing an ideology,” said John Calvert, the founding director of the Intelligent Design Network, who presented the case challenging Kansas’ new proposed standards. According to an article in Grand Forks Herald (May 7), critics of evolution say evolution has taken on “the status of a dogma and is a precursor to atheism.” They argue that it cannot explain the diversity of life or the existence of humans.

State and national science groups supporting evolution-only teaching boycotted the hearings, saying they were rigged against evolution and in favor of language backed by intelligent design. The world’s largest general science organization and publisher of the journal Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in a Washington Post article (May 8), that the hearings “will most likely serve to confuse the public.”

Outside the hearing room, outraged evolutionist scientists challenged the validity of the hearings. Jack Krebs, vice president for Kansas Citizens for Science, told Reuters/Yahoo News (May 5), “They have hijacked science and education.”

Stymied by the boycott of scientists who support evolution, the state department of education asked attorney Pedro Irigonegaray, who reportedly has little science background, to represent the side defending evolution. Irigonegaray told Reuters (in a CNN article, May 2) that “to debate evolution is similar to debating whether the Earth is round.”

The board expects to consider changes this summer in standards that determine how students are tested on science throughout the state. The state board’s standards determine what is on statewide tests, but local school boards decide what is actually taught and which textbooks are used.

The board is considering two drafts of the standards. The first is from a 26-member committee appointed by the education commissioner. Their draft updates the standards but makes no significant changes.

The second draft, called a minority report, is from eight members of the 26-member committee. It calls for changing the definition of science and for students to study evolution from a more critical point of view. Many evolutionists are calling this creationism wrapped in a new package.

If the board adopts the new standards, which is expected in June, Kansas would join Ohio in allowing students to be taught that there is a controversy over evolution. The battle over evolution continues on the local level in about 20 states altogether.

According to the New York Times (May 5), the most significant shift in the standards would be the definition of science. The new standards would describe it as a “continuing investigation that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.”

The hearings are expected to conclude this Thursday (May 12), but Irigonegaray, a civil rights and defense lawyer, does not plan to have any evolutionist scientists testify, although he did cross-examine witnesses last week. Irigonegaray told the Associated Press (Kansas City Star, May 9) that “we’re building a record so that, depending on what the board does, we will be able to use it if the board crosses the line between church and state and introduces faith-based studies into the Kansas curriculum.”

But board member Connie Morris said in the same article, “I absolutely am getting more than enough information to be armed, to respond when I get the question, ‘Are you getting evidence to refute Darwinian evolution?’”

Once the hearings are complete, it will be up to the full 10-member board of education to decide on any changes. According to a May 7 Times Online (UK) article, all three members of the Kansas subcommittee support a change in the standards to tell students that evolution is only a theory, not a fact, and to include alternatives.

Critics of the education board’s hearings say they are designed to advance a conservative Christian agenda. As Kansas School Board chairman Steve Abrams told Reuters (in a CNN article, May 2), the hearings are less about religion than they are about seeking the best possible education for the state’s children.

“If students . . . do not understand the weaknesses of evolutionary theory as well as the strengths, a grave injustice is being done to them,” said Abrams.

For more background on this controversy, read Kansas To Can Controversial Curriculum!


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