Criticism of evolution added to science standards

Conservatives claim 6-4 victory

? A sharply divided State Board of Education on Tuesday approved science standards that critics say will promote religion in school, hurt the state’s economy and make Kansas a joke.

“This is a sad day for the state of Kansas,” said board member Carol Rupe, R-Wichita.

But Board Chairman Steve Abrams, a Republican from Arkansas City, defended the new standards as giving students an opportunity to learn about the controversy surrounding evolution.

“This is one of the best things we can do,” he said.

After nearly an hour of board debate, the 6-4 majority of social conservatives pushed through the standards that open up criticism of evolution.

Now Kansas joins a handful of states, encouraged by supporters of intelligent design, that have taken on evolution. John Calvert, managing director of Intelligent Design Network in Johnson County, who helped produce a four-day hearing in May to bash evolution, said, “No longer will Darwin be taught dogmatically in Kansas public schools.”

Members of the local, national and international press converge around Board of Education chairman Dr. Steve Abrams as he expresses his happiness about the board's successful vote on adopting the new science standards. Abrams voted in favor of the measure, which passed 6-4.

The Kansas battle is part of a nationwide debate. In Pennsylvania, the Dover school board has been legally challenged for requiring that high school students hear about intelligent design in biology classes. President Bush also has said intelligent design, which holds that the complexity of life proves the existence of a higher power, should be taught alongside evolution.

The board vote ended nearly 10 months of often rancorous debate that attracted international attention. The decision also signaled the next phase of the struggle – the 2006 election when four of the six conservatives are up for re-election; several have already drawn opponents.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius criticized the board’s action.

“If we’re going to continue to bring high-tech jobs to Kansas and move our state forward, we need to strengthen science standards, not weaken them,” she said.

Bitter debate

While the final result was expected, that didn’t keep board members and those involved in the battle from trying to get in their last licks.

As the discussion started, Abrams passed around a resolution to adopt the standards that also laid out an account of the standards-making process that was favorable to the conservatives.

Opponents of the standards were flabbergasted.

Board member Janet Waugh, D-Kansas City, said usually the board simply votes on the standards without also adopting a one-sided narrative.

“Why do we need this?” Waugh asked.

“Get real,” Abrams answered. “Look around the room,” he said, noting all the media. He said the resolution provided an explanation of how the standards were devised.

Rupe said the standards were simply an attempt to put a narrow religious belief into the classroom.

“I wish you were not changing science to have it fit your faith,” she said.

But Abrams and other board members said it was evolution that was being treated like a religion that can’t be questioned. They accused opponents of the standards of being afraid of change.

Waugh replied, “We are becoming a laughingstock not only of the nation, but the world.”

But Ken Willard, a Republican from Hutchinson, said, “People who continue to say that are suffering from a collective poor self image.”

Copyright problems

Another unresolved issue about the standards is that two national science organizations have refused to let Kansas use their copyright guidelines because of the criticism of evolution.

That means the standards have to be rewritten to get around the copyright language.

Abrams said that shouldn’t be difficult to fix, but Sue Gamble, R-Shawnee, said it wasn’t right to vote on standards that hadn’t even been written yet.

“We appear to be approving a pig in a poke,” she said.

But Abrams replied, “It’s immaterial because you’re not going to vote for them anyway.”

Earlier in the day, members of the public spoke to the board about the standards.

Lisa Volland, a science teacher at Topeka West High School, said she will use the standards as a “teachable moment” to tell students intelligent design “is not a scientific theory.”

But Linda Holloway, a former board chairman who was defeated after she pushed for de-emphasizing evolution in 1999, said Kansas was at the vanguard of an important struggle.

“You are breaking the shackles of evolution, so we can pry it open and look into it,” she said.

No immediate impact

For all the hue and cry, the vote will have no immediate practical impact on teaching science in Kansas classrooms, officials said.

The standards are used as guidelines for school districts to prepare for statewide science tests.

None of the controversial parts of the standards are keyed to the tests, which aren’t scheduled until 2007.

Kansas has been down this road before. After the board voted to de-emphasize evolution in 1999, moderates won elections to take over the board and reverse the decision in 2001.

But in two election cycles since then, conservatives regained the majority and this year started to push for science changes.