Kansas Fight on Evolution Escalates
By Jodi Wilgoren
The New York Times
Friday 28 October 2005
Two leading science organizations have denied the Kansas Board of Education permission to use their copyrighted materials as part of the state's proposed new science standards because of the standards' critical approach to evolution.
The rebuke from the two groups, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association, comes less than two weeks before the board's expected adoption of the controversial new standards, which will serve as a template for statewide tests and thus have great influence on what is taught.
Kansas is one of a number of states and school districts where the teaching of evolution has lately come under assault. If adopted, its change in standards will be among the most aggressive challenges in the nation to biology's bedrock theory.
The copyright denial could delay adoption as the standards are rewritten but is unlikely to derail the board's conservative majority in its mission to require that challenges to Darwin's theories be taught in the state's classrooms.
In a joint statement yesterday, Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy, and Michael J. Padilla, president of the teachers' group, said: "Kansas students will not be well prepared for the rigors of higher education or the demands of an increasingly complex and technologically driven world if their science education is based on these standards. Instead, they will put the students of Kansas at a competitive disadvantage as they take their place in the world."
In the statement and in letters to the state board, the groups opposed the standards because they would single out evolution as a controversial theory and change the definition of science itself so that it is not restricted to the study of natural phenomena. A third organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, echoed those concerns in a news release supporting the copyright denial, saying, "Students are ill served by any effort in science classrooms to blur the distinction between science and other ways of knowing, including those concerned with the supernatural."
Though the complaints of the National Academy and the teachers' group focus on just a handful of references to evolution, their copyrighted material appears on almost all 100 pages of the standards, which are an overview of science subjects taught in kindergarten through high school. In Kansas, as in most states, local school districts decide on curriculums and choose textbooks, but the state standards guide those decisions.
"In some cases it's just a phrase, but in some cases it's extensive," Steve Case, the chairman of the board's standards-writing committee, said of the differences required by the copyright denial. "You try to keep the idea but change the wording around; the writing becomes horrifically bad."
Dr. Case, a research professor at the University of Kansas who opposes the proposed standards, said removing the copyrighted material could take several months. But Steve Abrams, the board's president and leader of its 6-to-4 conservative majority, said it could approve the standards on Nov. 8 as planned, with a caveat directing a copyright lawyer to edit out direct references to the groups' materials.
"The impact is minimal - it won't change the concepts," said Dr. Abrams, a veterinarian. "They obviously don't have copyrights on concepts."
The copyright skirmish is not a surprise: the two science groups took similar steps in 1999, when the Kansas board stripped the standards of virtually any reference to evolution, a move that was reversed when conservative members were ousted from office. (Critics of evolutionary theory regained a majority last year.)
ue Gamble, a board member who opposes the changes, acknowledged that the science groups' dissent would do little to halt the standards' adoption but said it could lead to a backlash.
"Nothing is going to stop these six members from doing what they're going to do," she said of the board's conservative majority, four of whom are up for re-election in 2006. "It won't make any difference, but I think it will make a difference next year in the election."