Kansas Board of Education removes evolution from science curriculum

                    By Jerry White
                   The Kansas Board of Education voted Wednesday to delete virtually all
                    references to evolution, natural selection and the origins of the universe
                    from the state's science curriculum. The decision represents the most
                    far-reaching success thus far for the Religious Right and its attempt to ban
                    Darwinism from public school classrooms in the US.

                    Under the new guidelines for K-12 students, individual science teachers
                    will not be barred from teaching evolution, but it will no longer be
                    included in state tests, and therefore can be dropped from the curriculum
                    of local school boards. Presented by the state board as a victory for local
                    school "choice," the move is expected to encourage Christian
                    conservatives to push for a complete ban on the teaching of evolution in
                    local school districts and to force teachers to question the validity of
                    evolution and teach creationism.

                    Kenneth Miller, a Brown University biology professor and staunch
                    advocate of teaching evolution, told the WSWS, "I think it's a dramatic
                    step backward for science education in Kansas. What they have done is
                    to cut the heart out of science, which is evolution. Of course this will
                    embolden critics of evolution and serve to legitimize them. But in another
                    way it may be productive, and serve as a wake-up call to the science

                    The campaign to change the Kansas guidelines was led by board
                    member Steve Abrams, a former state Republican chairman. It began
                    after a 27-member state committee of scientists drafted new standards
                    which acknowledged that evolution was a "broad, unifying theoretical
                    framework of biology." Abrams denounced the draft, saying, "it is not
                    good science to teach evolution as fact." He was joined by Scott Hill, a
                    farmer, who recently said, "There's a liberal agenda to build up and
                    glorify evolution in our schools."

                    With the help of creationists, Abrams and Hill redrafted the guidelines,
                    deleting two pages on evolution and inserting the sentence: "The design
                    and complexity of the design of the cosmos requires an intelligent
                    designer." The latter was removed after protests from scientists, but a
                    compromise was then drafted, and after months of a 5-5 deadlock on the
                    school board, it passed by a margin of 6-4 Wednesday.

                    The new standard includes a reference to so-called micro-evolution, a
                    term coined by creationists, which refers to the genetic adaptation and
                    natural process within a species. But it excludes any mention of
                    "macro-evolution," the understanding that all life evolved from common
                    ancestors. Also removed was any reference to the Big Bang theory of the
                    origin of the universe. Instead, teachers are instructed to "suggest
                    alternative explanations to scientific hypotheses or theories" and a
                    reference is made to the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington
                    state, which creationists claim undermines scientific evolutionary theory
                    because it showed geological changes can happen very quickly (i.e.,
                    within a Biblical time frame rather than over millions of years).

                    John Staver, co-chairman of the committee of scientists that drafted the
                    standards, called it a "travesty to science education" and added, "Kansas
                    just embarrassed itself on the national stage." More than half of the
                    committee members are demanding their names be removed from the
                    document. In addition, the presidents of the state's six public universities,
                    including the University of Kansas, opposed the school board's plan,
                    writing that it would, "set Kansas back a century and give hard-to-find
                    science teachers no choice but to pursue other career fields or
                    assignments outside of Kansas."

                    One board member who opposed the new standards said the decision
                    would make Kansas science students "the laughing stock of the world."
                    Anticipating that being branded backward and ignorant might hurt
                    businesses in the state, even Republican Governor Bill Graves called the
                    board's action, "a terrible, tragic, embarrassing solution to a problem that
                    didn't exist."

                    Half of the members on the Kansas Board of Education are right-wing
                    fundamentalists. It is chaired by Linda Holloway, an Evangelical Christian
                    and former Kansas City school teacher, who shortly after being elected
                    to the state school board led a campaign to require that parents give
                    written permission before students took sex education and that the
                    course teach abstinence only.

                    The passage of the new state guidelines does not express a groundswell
                    of support for taking Kansas back to the Middle Ages. Nor is the attack
                    on evolution the product of rural ignorance. The stronghold of the
                    fundamentalists is not the farms, but the middle class suburbs around
                    Kansas City. Kansas is in the Midwest, not the South, with traditions of
                    free thought which go back nearly 150 years, to the state's origins in the
                    struggle against slavery before the American Civil War. A century ago
                    Kansas was a hotbed of radical thought and opposition to
                    capitalism—Populism, the Socialist Party, the IWW—and was home to
                    the Appeal to Reason, a socialist newspaper with a mass nationwide

                    If in 1999 it is the appeal to unreason which has taken the initiative, it
                    reflects more the well-financed efforts of the religious right, which enjoys
                    widespread publicity, if not support, in the news media, as well as the
                    lack of any significant opposition from what might be described as the
                    liberal intelligentsia. In the midst of this campaign, the Topeka
                    Capital-Journal, in Kansas editorialized that "creationism is a good a
                    hypothesis as any for how the universe began."

                               The right-wing and the Republican Party

                    Moreover, these right-wing elements have increasingly taken over the
                    Republican Party. After the school shooting in Littleton, Colo., earlier this
                    year, House Minority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) blamed the incident
                    in part on the teaching of evolution rather than creationism in public

                    "Our school systems teach the children that they are nothing but glorified
                    apes who are evolutionized out of some primordial soup of mud," DeLay
                    said in an speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. In June,
                    the House passed a measure allowing the Ten Commandments to be
                    posted in schools and other government buildings and the bill is now
                    going to the Senate.

                    One creationist "scholar," Sam Blumenfeld, said that America's founders
                    were Calvinists who believed that man is, by nature, a depraved creature
                    who needs fear of a higher power to do the right thing. Public schools at
                    one time were based on this philosophy, Blumenfeld said, but in recent
                    decades the schools have been shaped by "secular humanism" which
                    holds that humans control their destinies.

                    It is difficult to overstate the concentrated ignorance in this comment. The
                    Christian fundamentalists have forgotten Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine,
                    and Benjamin Franklin! Those who led the American Revolution were
                    men of the Enlightenment, that great and liberating period in which the
                    bourgeoisie, during its revolutionary rise, shook off the shackles of
                    religious dogma. The Founding Fathers were for the most part Deists and
                    materialists, and many of them scientists and inventors.

                    The apparent success of the fundamentalists, then, is not based either on
                    the strength of their ideas or any broad popular support, but on the
                    rightward shift of the political establishment. For the most part, the
                    masses of people remain confused and passive, unaware of the dangers
                    posed by the escalating attack on public education and democratic rights
                    as a whole.

                    The Christian conservatives have mobilized their followers to vote for
                    school board members and legislators, and general low voter turnout in
                    many elections has ensured their success. Along with their denunciations
                    of the "immorality" of public schools, they have advocated publicly
                    financed charter schools, homeschooling and aid, in the form of vouchers
                    or tax credits, for parents who send their children to private and
                    parochial schools.

                    Public education has been particularly targeted because it remains
                    identified with the rational, egalitarian and democratic ideals of those
                    reformers who fought for universal public schools in the 19th and 20th
                    century. These ideas are correctly seen as an obstacle to the deeply
                    reactionary agenda which the right-wing is pursuing. In a speech at last
                    fall's Christian Coalition national convention, Pat Robertson denounced
                    educational reformer John Dewey for training teachers to spread "poison"
                    into the schools.

                    More than a decade ago, the US Supreme Court, in the case of Edwards
                    v. Aguillard (1987), ruled that Louisiana's so-called balanced treatment
                    of creationism and evolution in the public schools violated the
                    constitutional separation of church and state. Since this ruling, that
                    effectively barred the teaching of creationism in public schools, religious
                    fundamentalists have tried a new tactic, i.e., efforts to limit the teaching of
                    evolution and challenging its merits on pseudo-scientific grounds.

                    In recent years Alabama, New Mexico and Nebraska have made
                    changes that to varying degrees challenge the prominence of evolution in
                    science classes, generally presenting it as merely one possible explanation
                    of natural development. Others states such as Texas, Ohio, Washington,
                    New Hampshire and Tennessee, have considered, but ultimately
                    defeated, similar bills, including some that would have required those who
                    teach evolution to present so-called evidence to disprove it. In addition,
                    many local school boards have moved in this direction.

                    In Alabama, for example, biology textbooks carry a sticker calling
                    evolution, "a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific
                    explanation for the origin of living things." The disclaimer adds: "No one
                    was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement
                    about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact." This has
                    gone hand in hand with attempts to intimidate science teachers, school
                    administrators and textbook publishers.

                    In opposition there is an increasing concern, particularly among teachers,
                    that scientific thought is under attack as it was 75 years ago during the
                    famous Scopes Monkey trial in Tennessee. In a recent statement, the
                    National Association of Biology Teachers wrote: "Whether called
                    'creation science,' 'scientific creationism,' 'intelligent-design theory,'
                    'young-earth theory' or some other synonym, creation beliefs have no
                    place in the science classroom. Explanations employing nonnaturalistic or
                    supernatural events, whether or not explicit reference is made to a
                    supernatural being, are outside of the realm of science and not part of a
                    valid science curriculum."