Update on Kansas

As most readers of the Panda’s Thumb know, Kansas was the scene of a major creationist success in 1999 when the creationist majority of the state Board of Education worked with a local group of mostly young-earth creationists to pass state science standards that eliminated “macroevolution” as well as other parts of earth science and cosmology.

The resulting publicity made world-wide news for the next year and a half, and in the fall of 2000 voters in Kansas elected some new pro-science Board members who promptly reinstated the eliminated standards - and all was well.

Or so we thought. But in 2001, two pro-science Board members were defeated (one by a genuine stealth campaign,) and the Board reverted to a 5-5 split between the creationist conservatives and the pro-science moderates. Now the summer and fall of 2004 finds us facing both a new round of elections and a review of the science standards. Almost certainly the teaching of evolution will come under attack, and, pending the outcome of the election, possibly send Kansas back to world-wide infamy.

So here’s a report on the current state of affairs in Kansas.

2004 Board of Education elections

Four of the pro-science Board members are up for re-election this year, and the one creationist incumbent, who was the mastermind of the 1999 standards,is a well-established representative from a conservative area of Kansas. He does, however, have a credible pro-science moderate Republican opponent.

One openly creationist candidate has filed against one of the pro-science incumbents, saying she would want to revisit the evolution issue. It is certain that all the other incumbents will have creationist opponents, as the radical right wing of the Republican party in Kansas is well-organized.

As an example of the rhetoric we will see, the above mentioned challenger to a pro-science Board member recently wrote in a fund-raising letter,

The new standards [in 1999, since overturned], which de-emphasized teaching monkey-to-man evolution as fact, were widely attacked by liberal politicians, pundits, educators, and media personalities. … [But] you see, the Board’s 1999 decision never was about forcing the Bible’s account of creation to be exclusively taught in public schools. It was not about banning Darwin’s theory of macroevolution. No, the Board’s decision was simply a refreshingly candid acknowledgment of the fact that Darwin’s theory of macroevolution is far from proven and that continuing to teach it as fact without offering competing theories for Kansas students to consider was doing them a real disservice.

As a public school teacher for 30 years and the former Lead Science Teacher for my district, I fully supported the Board’s decision in 1999 and I still do. When it comes to topics like this, we need a full discussion of all applicable theories and should go out of our way to prevent the kind of academic censorship that has suffocated science classes for decades.

All four of the pro-science incumbents will need to win re-election or the incumbent creationist will need to be defeated just in order to retain the 5-5 split on the board. The voters of Kansas need to be well informed about the views of the various candidates on the science standards and on evolution, and those that support science will need to make it a point to vote.

Science standards review

The science standards passed in 2001 come up for their five year review this year (since they were originally passed in their creationist version in 1999). This Tuesday the state Board will start the science standards review committee process. The state Department of Education has selected 15 people to be on the review committee, and each Board member gets to appoint one more, for a total committee of 25 people. Therefore, there are likely to be five people at least sympathetic to creationism (and most likely they will in fact be creationist activists.)

Although this is a review committee only (not intended to make a major overhaul of the standards,) chances are high that Kansas will once again become a focus of creationist activity, and almost certainly that activity will come in an “intelligent design” package. Both the Discovery Institute and John Calvert’s “Intelligent Design network (which is based in Kansas City) have been active in every state in which science standards revision or review had some up since Kansas, so I think it is quite likely they will return when they have the opportunity. As we know from watching other states, they will mobilize the YEC’s in the background but emphasize the standard “teach the controversy” strategy - all one has to do is look at Ohio or Montana or Minnesota to see what will come our way.

Whether the citizens of Kansas will want to go through all this again remains to be seen. I ask all interested people, in Kansas or not, to stay-tuned and be prepared to participate in whatever way they can if Kansas becomes the next state to be visited by the ID movement.