Archive for Wednesday, August 11, 1999


August 11, 1999


As teachers worry, students question evolution debate.

As the Kansas Board of Education gathers to vote on science curriculum standards today, area science teachers are watching anxiously and students are wondering what the fuss is all about.

Gary Webber, an Earth and space science teacher at Southwest Junior High School, doesn't teach evolution. That's handled by the biology teacher. But throwing out the idea of geologic time on which the theory of evolution rests in part would make it hard for him to do his job.

"If you have a theory of the universe that says it's only a few thousand years old, geology would be difficult to teach," Webber said.

Scientists estimate the Earth's age at 4.5 billion years and the universe to be about 15 billion years old.

Webber said he makes clear to the children in his classes that he teaches facts and theories supported by scientific evidence.

"Most seem fine with that," he said. "I never had anyone get upset."

Students who accept a creationist view of the universe are told their views are not supported by scientific evidence, Webber said.

"The kids who believe very strongly, I try to show them I respect what they believe," he said.

Explicit introduction to evolution begins in seventh-grade life science classes, said Lynda Allen, who coordinates science curriculum for the Lawrence school district. But, children are introduced to facts based on evolution long before that.

"If you give a child a book about dinosaurs and it says dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, that's evolution," Allen said.

"Evolution concepts are woven into the life sciences," she said.

Detailed discussion of evolution begins in the ninth grade and continues throughout high school.

"I don't think you can take it out without destroying science," Allen said.

Ken Highfill, a Lawrence High School biology teacher, said he finds few children opposed to learning evolution in biology classes.

Highfill credits the influence of such Lawrence institutions as the Kansas University Natural History Museum for that acceptance.

"Over 30 years ago, I taught at a small school and went through a process when I was to neutralize discussion of evolution in the classroom," he said. "It was important to me to come to Lawrence, where we have good science instruction in the classroom."

High school students spending the afternoon at the Lawrence Aquatic Center said they didn't understand the debate raging among board members.

Jenny Jeremiah of Tulsa, who is spending the summer in Lawrence, said of the debate, "I think it's stupid."

"I think it should be like it was," Jeremiah said. "We should have three years of math and three years of science and social science."

Asked to define evolution, she said. "Like growing. I've noticed some of the kids used to be smaller than today because we eat different."

Jeremiah's friend, Kerry Monthey, a junior at Oskaloosa High School, said "teachers should teach facts about how things happened and not about things that can't be proven at all."

Evolution, Monthey said, is about "how things started out as one thing and how they changed into other things, like people coming from apes."

She thinks evolution is "pretty right. There's no other explanation for how things got here."

About not teaching evolution, Monthey said, "Having kids grow up stupid is pretty ridiculous."

Sean Gallagher, a Free State High School senior, said everyone should know evolution because of its importance to science.

Evolution, he said, is "the theory of creatures transforming to other things, like monkeys evolved into humanoid."

"Creationism shouldn't be taught in a science class," Gallagher said. "Which idea of creation? The Christian religion or some other?"

Justin Harber, an eighth-grader at Leavenworth Middle School, wasn't worrying about the science standards debate.

"I really don't have that much thoughts about it," he said.

"He's worried about whether he gets grounded next week," said his mother, Ann Burg.

"Yeah," Justin said.

-- Erwin Seba's phone message number is 832-7145. His e-mail address is

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