Kansas school board redefines science
New standards question accuracy of evolutionary theory
[CNN.com]TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) -- At the risk of re-igniting the same heated nationwide debate it sparked six years ago, the Kansas Board of Education approved new public school science standards Tuesday that cast doubt on the theory of evolution.
The 6-4 vote was a victory for "intelligent design" advocates who helped draft the standards. Intelligent design holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.
Critics of the language charged that it was an attempt to inject God and creationism into public schools in violation of the separation of church and state.
All six of those who voted for the standards were Republicans. Two Republicans and two Democrats voted against them.
"This is a sad day. We're becoming a laughingstock of not only the nation, but of the world, and I hate that," said board member Janet Waugh, a Kansas City Democrat.
Supporters of the standards said they will promote academic freedom. "It gets rid of a lot of dogma that's being taught in the classroom today," said board member John Bacon, an Olathe Republican.
The standards state that high school students must understand major evolutionary concepts. But they also declare that some concepts have been challenged in recent years by fossil evidence and molecular biology.
The challenged concepts cited include the basic Darwinian theory that all life had a common origin and the theory that natural chemical processes created the building blocks of life.
In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.
The standards will be used to develop student tests measuring how well schools teach science. Decisions about what is taught in classrooms will remain with 300 local school boards, but some educators fear pressure will increase in some communities to teach less about evolution or more about intelligent design. (Read how Kansas came to this point)
The vote marked the third time in six years that the Kansas board has rewritten standards with evolution as the central issue.
In 1999, the board eliminated most references to evolution, a move Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould said was akin to teaching "American history without Lincoln."
Two years later, after voters replaced three members, the board reverted to evolution-friendly standards. Elections in 2002 and 2004 changed the board's composition again, making it more conservative.
Many scientists and other critics contend creationists repackaged old ideas in scientific-sounding language to get around a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1987 that banned teaching the biblical story of creation in public schools.
The Kansas board's action is part of a national debate. In Pennsylvania, a judge is expected to rule soon in a lawsuit against the Dover school board's policy of requiring high school students to learn about intelligent design in biology class. (Read about the Dover debate)
In August, President Bush endorsed teaching intelligent design alongside evolution.