Evolution returns

Many Kansans aren’t happy to hear that their state school board once again is focusing on science standards and the teaching of evolution.

News that the Kansas State Board of Education once again is discussing science standards and the teaching of evolution makes many Kansans cringe.

Only a few years ago, Kansas attracted considerable unflattering attention when the state school board decided to remove the theory of evolution from its science curriculum requirements. After new board members were elected, the decision was reversed, and many state residents aren’t eager to see the issue revisited. Unfortunately, at least a few state school board members don’t share that view.

The board received a report this week on common science standards being developed by 26 states, including Kansas, and the National Research Council. The goal is to write standards that will be considered for adoption in the participating states. The draft standards reviewed by the Kansas board describe evolution as a well-founded, core scientific concept.

That seems like a fair enough description, but some Kansas board members weren’t happy with the language. To support his criticism of the standards, board member Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican, distributed a letter from a group called Citizens for Objective Public Education, which lists officers in Florida and Kansas. The letter argues that the draft standards ignore evidence against evolution, don’t respect religious diversity and promote secular humanism.

Kansans have heard this argument before and largely rejected it. The job of school science classes is to use the best available scientific evidence to teach about a variety of topics, including evolution. If matters of faith somehow conflict with the scientific evidence, that is a topic for religious instruction most appropriately conducted in private homes or churches.

Instruction in public schools can’t be based on the individual beliefs of students. In math, grammar and most other subjects, there are generally accepted standards of knowledge that should be imparted to students. Two times two equals four; singular subjects take singular verbs in a sentence. Such standards are the basis for education. The same is true in science class. Students can choose not to believe in evolution, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t learn about and understand the well-accepted theory on which much of biological study is based.

Kansans certainly respect a wide variety of religious beliefs in the state, but the argument over teaching evolution as part of public school science classes has proved to be needlessly divisive and embarrassing. After considerable debate and a couple of election cycles, this issue was settled several years ago. Unless there’s a compelling reason to raise it again, the state school board should let that decision stand.