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Archive for Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Protest letter sent to board

December 14, 2004

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Dissenting members of the Kansas State Board of Education's science standards committee sent a letter Friday to board members expressing disagreement with the committee's current draft.

The letter also included a 23-page proposed revision to the document.

The letter said the dissenters believe inthe teaching of evolutionary theory but that the draft implicitly discourages critical analysis of it.

"At a time when students are well aware that a controversy over the teaching of evolution is raging in the country, we feel that they should know about the areas of scientific disagreement," wrote committee member William Harris, who signed the letter on behalf of the eight dissenting members.

The dissenters' proposed revision would not require evolution to be removed from science curriculum but would allow teachers to also instruct students about intelligent design theory, which critics call thinly disguised creationism.

Kathy Martin, a conservative Republican who will join the state board in January, said the dissenters' recommendations sounded good to her.

"It sounds like something I would be able to agree with," she said. "All theories are open to being challenged. Especially ones that pertain to some personal or deep-seated beliefs ought to be treated with more sensitivity, maybe, to students' personal beliefs and family values."

But board chairwoman Janet Waugh said her initial reaction when hearing excerpts of the proposed revisions and the letter made her think she couldn't support them.

"It's my understanding that evolution is taught as a theory to begin with," the Democrat said. "Why do we have to elaborate that it's a theory? It doesn't make sense that we would make such a big deal."

Harris has referred questions about the letter and the proposed revisions to John Calvert, a managing director of Intelligent Design Network Inc.

The network is a Johnson County-based nonprofit organization that claims to seek objectivity in origins science. Calvert is not on the science standards committee.

Harris also is a managing director of the network and a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Some have raised questions about Calvert's relationship with the letter and proposed revisions given that he is not a member of the committee.

"This is a pretty weird thing all the way through," said committee chairman Steve Case of Kansas University. "If the board had wanted John Calvert on the committee, they would have appointed him."

Calvert serves as a counsel and spokesman for the group backing the dissenters' letter. He said he had attended most of the committee meetings.

Harris said he did not see a problem with Calvert's help.

"Both sides are getting outside information," he said. "This is not unusual."

The science standards committee started meeting in June. The 25 members were chosen by the Board of Education and the state commissioner of education. The group mainly consists of professors and high school and middle school teachers.

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