Kansas education board stands by controversial science-education guidelines

Thursday, October 14, 1999

Shawnee Mission...
Shawnee Mission West High School science teacher Ken Bingman reviews upcoming test with his Biology II honors students on Oct. 7 in Shawnee Mission, Kan. Bingham, a 33-year veteran biology teacher, is glad his district has opted out of Kansas guidelines omitting theory of evolution from state science standards.

The Kansas Board of Education is standing by its science-education guidelines that de-emphasize scientific theories, even though it will now have to rewrite them after three science associations pulled their materials.

On Oct. 12, the board voted 7-3 to reaffirm its revised science-education standards that downplay the teaching of evolution in public school classrooms. The guidelines delete not only evolution but also the “Big Bang” theory of the universe’s creation. The guidelines were drafted in part by the nonprofit group Creation Science Association, which claims the Bible’s creation story is in fact the way the universe was created.

The board’s latest vote was prompted by the refusal of three science-education associations to allow the board to incorporate portions of their recommended state science standards into the Kansas standards.

In late September, the National Science Teachers Association, the National Research Council and the American Association for the Advancement of Science rejected requests from the Kansas board to include some of their guidelines, standards and other materials in its state science standards. The groups denied the request because of the board’s intent to discourage the teaching of evolution.

“We cannot allow groups like the Kansas State Board of Education to grossly misrepresent the vision of quality science education,” said Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.

After voting to reaffirm the 94-page guidelines, the board ordered the education commissioner to edit and rewrite them to delete copyrighted materials from the science associations. Janet Waugh, of Kansas City, Kan., and one of the board members to vote against the standards and the decision to rewrite them, said she would “hate to see us spend a lot of money on these standards.” The board’s attorney said it could cost up to $3,000 to make sure the standards do not violate copyrights.

Kansas Gov. Bill Graves, who called the board’s initial vote in August to dump the required teaching of evolution “embarrassing,” said through a spokesman that he was disappointed in the board’s recent action.

“This has been a black eye for Kansas,” spokesman Mike Matson told The Wichita Eagle. “He (Graves) is disappointed they didn’t take advantage of this opportunity to try again.”

The Kansas school board’s vote has received unfavorable national attention and apparently has prompted other states to re-examine their science-education standards. Recently, Kentucky education officials voted to remove mention of evolution from state standards, while the New Mexico Board of Education took the opposite tack, voting to teach only evolution in science classes.

New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, in a piece that appeared on Oct. 12, questioned the concern of some Christian fundamentalists who believe evolution undermines their faith and retards morals.

“Those who take the biblical account of creation literally reject the scientific method, offering instead a doctrine of faith,” Lewis wrote. “There are ‘creation scientists’ who argue that the Bible can be squared with scientific observations of, for example, the age of the universe. But they are not taken seriously by most scientists. Concern about aspects of American life is fair enough. But depriving children of the great ideas of science cannot make things better. We thought we had advanced since Galileo was silenced for advancing the theory that the earth revolves around the sun.”

Federal court precedent, well more than a decade old, holds that public school science classes are not the proper forum for discussions of Bible stories. Several Supreme Court decisions make it clear that public schools may teach about non-scientific explanations of life, including religious ones, only in certain classes, such as comparative religion or literature.

“There is and can be no doubt that the First Amendment does not permit the state to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma,” Justice Abe Fortas wrote in the 1968 Supreme Court decision, Epperson v. Arkansas. That decision invalidated an Arkansas law banning the teaching of evolution in the state.