Teachers in Kan. vow to keep study of evolution

State's school board decided to omit subject from science standards

September 20, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

HAYS, Kan. -- With the roar of a life-size animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex echoing in the background, Kansas biology teachers issued a loud statement of their own Saturday: They vowed to continue teaching evolution in the classroom, despite its omission from new state science standards.

"We want to teach good science," Topeka West High School teacher Lisa Volland told nearly 40 instructors at the Kansas Association of Biology Teachers' fall conference in the Sternberg Museum of Natural History. "We want to teach good biology. In order to do that, we have to teach evolution."

The state board of education's decision Aug. 11 drew national and international attention to Kansas. Saturday, TV crews from "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" and a CBS "Sunday Morning" hovered around the museum.

Several teachers said the new standards are likely to persuade teachers to become more effective at teaching evolution. That was no surprise to state board member Mary Douglass Brown, who said she doesn't expect districts to change their curricula or stop teaching evolution.

Before the vote, teachers took for granted that students and the public knew that evolution was a scientific theory based on physical evidence, said Ken Bingman of Shawnee Mission West High School in Mission, Kan.

But the debates ignited by the board's discussion and approval of the science standards demonstrated that at least some people view evolution more as a belief system -- placing it on the same plane as religious teachings.

By infusing the new science standards with language that describes the nature of science as finding a "logical explanation" for how things came to be, "you change that sentence from being about science to being about philosophy," said Steve Case, chairman of Citizens for Science, a grass-roots organization created to promote the teaching of evolution in Kansas schools.

"We've got some damage control to do," acknowledged Richard Schrock, a professor of biology education at Emporia State University.

Schrock said the association wanted to send a strong message to young biology teachers who aren't sure how to respond to the state board's decision.

The state board's action leaves the decision on teaching evolution up to local school boards. Speakers at the conference said some districts may face pressure from parents to include creationism in the local curriculum, and teachers will have to help protect the soundness of the curriculum.

The approved document "doesn't demand equal time for creationism," Schrock said.

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