By John Richard Schrock
August 15, 2003
The Kansas State Board of Education voted 7-to-3 this week to initiate a full external committee review of K-12 science-education standards beginning in August 2004. Will this resurrect the "equal time for creation science" argument? Veteran board members and school administrators with solid school law training know this is not a possibility.
Louisiana tried requiring "equal time" for creation science if evolution was taught, and the issue went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. In that decision, Edwards v. Aguillard, the Supreme Court found that mandating "equal time" for creationism advanced religious belief, and their decision was not a close vote.
Therefore, opponents of evolution in the Kansas science standards probably have two options.
One option would be to return to the 1999 Kansas science standards that removed macroevolution, defined science as "logical" rather than "natural," and tinkered with the geological time scale, etc. This excluded evolution questions from the state assessment and was also defended as leaving the inclusion of evolution up to local school boards.
Could that enable a local Kansas school board to prohibit teaching of evolution in biology classes? Not if this action was tailored to meet local religious objections - again clearly decided in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1968 in Epperson v. Arkansas.
A second option is to make Kansas the first state to insert a new "intelligent design" proposal into the standards on an "equal time" basis. While advocates have worked hard to portray it as non-religious, ID has produced no science research
and has almost* no credibility in the science community.
And because a researcher who tried to use ID theory would have to somehow get into the mind of the designer, there is the likelihood that such a requirement would already be prohibited as religious and covered by previous court rulings. If not, the first state to attempt this would become the test case to be appealed up to the Supreme Court, putting that state's science standards in limbo for several years.
As a biology student-teacher supervisor who travels the state, I do not know of one Kansas high school biology teacher who stopped teaching macroevolution when the state board voted in 1999 to not include the concept in state science standards. And I do not know of any creationist teacher who was forced to teach evolution after the February 2001 reversal re-established those concepts. So far, Kansas science standards have been guidelines and do not dictate curriculum.
Biology teachers who understand evolution generally teach about it; creationist teachers generally do not. Adding or subtracting words from the current standards will not substantially change this.
John Richard Schrock of Emporia was a member of the original committee that drafted the science education standards that included evolution.