Archive for Saturday, May 15, 1999

BOARD OF EDUCATION HEARS CLASH OF IDEAS ON CREATIONEVOLUTION

May 15, 1999

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— A Kansas Board of Education public comment session on science education attracted dozens of people with strong feelings about teaching creationism and evolution in public schools.

If the goal Tuesday was to get an appraisal of the passion Kansans possess about mixing creationism and evolution in public schools, the experiment was an enormous success.

Nearly three dozen people who addressed the state Board of Education focused on whether evolution should be viewed as fact or theory in school classrooms. If merely a theory, as some argued, then other interpretations of life should be part into the science curriculum -- including creationism.

At issue is an effort by board member Steve Abrams of Arkansas City to amend a committee's proposed standards for teaching science in the state's 304 public school districts. He wants to stop the teaching of evolution as an absolute.

The version drafted by a 27-member committee appointed by the Board of Education proclaimed evolution a cornerstone of science education.

Abrams, a conservative former state Republican Party chair, said his alternative version would require teachers to stick to "good science." In that vein, he said, evolution could be taught as a theory rather than a fact. He wouldn't object to classroom discussions of divine intervention.

"Evolution is not provable," Abrams said. "There are a lot of differences of opinion about what evolution is."

The Board of Education isn't expected to vote on science education standards before June.

Monkey business

Numerous people who spoke at the open forum -- including half a dozen from Lawrence -- rejected Abrams' conclusions.

John Davidson, professor emeritus at Kansas University and representative of the Kansas Academy of Sciences, said implementing "creation science" would be a disservice to children.

"It is a threat not just to the teaching of biology or other areas of science, but a threat to serious and scholarly investigations in every area of intellectual property."

Davidson, a member of the Lawrence school board, said federal and state courts had held "creation science" to be a religion, not a science.

"We cannot replace science with mythology," said Michael Crawford, a KU biology professor and former Lawrence school board member. "Evolution is not a theory. It is a fact."

He said mingling science and religion in public schools would send the nation reeling to 1925 when Tennessee biology teacher John Scopes was prosecuted for breaking a law forbidding the teaching of evolution in state-supported schools.

Overland Park resident David Huet-Vaughn couldn't contain his frustration with the draft forwarded by Abrams.

"Is this a board of education or a board of misinformation?" he shouted. "Why do we have political ayatollahs in Kansas?"

Despite criticism in some quarters, supporters of Abrams' approach were out in force at the Board of Education meeting.

Ellen Barber, chair of a Lawrence organization called Parents for Objective Science and History, said the practice of teaching evolution and not creationism or other alternative views was unfair to school students.

"Science is supposed to be open," she said.

Bill Harris, a Prairie Village resident and professor of medicine at University of Missouri at Kansas City, said it was wicked to ignore the possibility that Earth's highly organized biological systems were derived from intelligent design.

"Think outside the box," Harris said, adding that to do otherwise amounted to "intellectual tyranny."

Many stalemates

Conservatives and moderates on the Board of Education have deadlocked the past few years on a series of issues, including student testing, charter schools and teacher licensing.

Linda Holloway, chair of the state Board of Education, said the 10-member board may vote on science education standards in June, if there are six votes for adopting a plan. The topic could be added to the list of issues mired in stalemate.

Holloway, of Shawnee, said she was sympathetic to the position staked out by Abrams.

"We need to be honest with students and say there are other ways to look at the same set of facts," she said.

On the other hand, moderate board member Bill Wagnon of Topeka said Abrams was working to redefine science based on a theological agenda.

"That's inappropriate," he said. "In effect, he has redesigned science to be a creationist creature."

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is tcarpenter@ljworld.com.

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