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Archive for Thursday, November 11, 2004

Board of Education cool to religion standards

Motion for academic study dies in meeting

November 11, 2004

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Despite a suggestion that intelligent design could be taught in religion classes, most state Board of Education members Wednesday indicated they weren't interested in creating standards for teaching religion.

The board discussed the idea of standards Tuesday on the request of board member Bill Wagnon, but the discussion went nowhere.

Wagnon, a moderate, said he wasn't advocating religious instruction in public schools but the academic study of religion.

"Americans need to have a clear understanding of what religions are and how they arise and how people are influenced by them," the Washburn University history professor said. "It's all part of dealing with a diverse world."

Schools would not be required to offer religion courses if the board passed religion standards, Wagnon said.

Schools could offer religion as an elective such as debate or music, he said. They would not have to use the standards the board approved.

During the meeting, Wagnon made a motion to take a preliminary step toward the creation of religion standards. Nobody supported the motion, and it died.

Religion standards would be created by a committee and would have to get final approval from the board.

Since last year, the board has been split 5-5 between conservative Republicans and a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats.

However, conservative Kathy Martin will replace moderate Bruce Wyatt in January.

The new conservative majority, 6-4, could alter the state's science standards, which treat evolution as among a few key concepts students must learn.

The current science standards were written in 2001 after a moderate board majority took control and reversed a 1999 decision to delete most references to evolution. That decision had sparked international attention.

Wagnon and fellow moderate Janet Waugh said intelligent design theories would fit into religion classes.

"I see this as a golden opportunity to introduce all the various forms of creationism, intelligent design because they're all based on faith," Waugh said.

Reached by telephone later Tuesday, board member Kenneth Willard said he disagreed.

"If I look at a car, I'm pretty sure that car was designed by somebody," the conservative said. "It doesn't have to do with my religion."

He said he thought intelligent design was more appropriate for a science class than a religion class.

He said he was not prepared to say whether he thought Kansas science standards should include intelligent design.

Some board members pointed out examples of how religion was integrated into social studies -- for example, a high school student learning about Confucianism and Buddhism in a history class.

Wagnon said studying religion integrated in other classes was not enough.

"It is a distinct academic discipline," he said of religion. "To try just to fuzzy it up is to do it a great disservice."

-- Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press.

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