TOPEKA, Kan. — A discussion about how evolution should be taught in Kansas' public schools degenerated Wednesday into personal attacks among State Board of Education members.
The board reviewed proposed standards drafted by three conservative members, designed to expose students to more criticism of evolution in the classroom.
The standards, which determine how students in fourth, seventh and 10th grades are tested on science, currently describe evolution as a key concept for students to learn before graduating from high school, treating it as the best explanation for how life developed and changed over time.
The three members who drafted the latest proposal are among six conservatives who control the board — and likely to approve much if not all of it. Four moderates, who favor retaining the standards' evolution-friendly tone, assailed the proposal.
Board member Bill Wagnon, of Topeka, told the three conservatives they had become "dupes" of intelligent design advocates and said their proposal was based "on absolute and total fraud."
Board member Sue Gamble, of Shawnee, said while board members should review proposed standards, they shouldn't write their own language, as the three conservatives did. She said the writing should be left to scientists and science teachers.
Board Chairman Steve Abrams, one of the three conservatives who drafted the latest proposal, said he had studied "a huge amount" of science, including in postgraduate classes. He is an Arkansas City veterinarian.
But Gamble replied: "I question your qualifications."
Helping Abrams draft the latest proposal were board members Kathy Martin, of Clay Center, and Connie Morris, of St. Francis. Morris chastised the board's four moderates for not attending the public hearings in May.
During the hearings, witnesses criticized evolutionary theory that natural chemical processes may have created the first building blocks of life, that all life has descended from a common origin and that man and apes share a common ancestor.
"Had you attended, you would have been informed," Morris said. "You would be sitting here as informed individuals and not arrogantly calling us dupes."
Advocates of intelligent design, which says some features of the natural world are so complex and well-ordered that they are best explained by an intelligent cause, organized the case against evolution during the hearings.
A newsletter from Morris circulated earlier this week, in which she derided evolution as an "age-old fairy tale" and criticized the four moderates by name.
"If we're going to ask the citizens of the state not to attack us, we have to be professional and not attack each other," said board member Janet Waugh, of Kansas City.
The board didn't make a decision Wednesday about the standards, but it told a committee of educators to review the proposal. Abrams said he also intended to have a second, external review it in July. That suggests the board won't vote until at least August.
The chairman of the educators' panel, Steve Case, said he's not sure what board members expect from his group. A majority of the educators supported evolution-friendly language.
"I know they don't want us to go in and take all of the changes out, which is what three-quarters of the committee will want to do," said Case, also the assistant director of the Center for Science Education at the University of Kansas.
The ongoing debate over how evolution should be taught has brought international attention to Kansas. The four days of hearings in May attracted journalists from Canada, France, Great Britain and Japan.
Battles over evolution also have occurred in recent years in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Kansas law requires the board to update its academic standards regularly, setting up this year's debate.
In 1999, the Kansas board deleted most references to evolution from the science standards, bringing international condemnation and ridicule to Kansas. Elections the next year resulted in a less conservative board, which led to the current, evolution-friendly standards. Conservative Republicans recaptured the board's majority in 2004 elections.
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