According to testimony from one of the speakers at last year's science hearings, Kansas had the only state science standards based on “nature,” and by changing the definition of science, Kansas joined the majority of other states! This statement was flat wrong, but it has misled many during these last days building up to our primary election for KSBE members.
“Nature,” “natural” and “natural phenomena” are in many of the state standards. That is because that is how scientists operate: they study natural phenomena and only natural phenomena.
Indiana is a state considered to have exemplary science standards. In the very first standard at Kindergarten level: “K.1.1 Raise questions about the natural world." In Indiana's sixth grade: “6.1.2 Give examples of different ways scientists investigate natural phenomena and identify processes all scientists use, such as collection of relevant evidence, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations, in order to make sense of the evidence.” And by the seventh grade: “Students further their scientific understanding of the natural world through investigations, experiences, and readings. They design solutions to practical problems by using a variety of scientific methodologies.”
And in California: “The scientific method is a process for predicting, on the basis of a handful of scientific principles, what will happen next in a natural sequence of events.”
All of the science standards of all of the states (except Iowa that lacks standards) are full of examples of natural causes, whether or not the word “natural” is used in the formal definition of science. Kansas scientists and Kansas science teachers learn at our universities that science is restricted to natural causes. Science does not judge art or assess religious purpose.
In Kansas, our science standards revisions dating back to 1999 have seen the argument center on the definition of science as either “based on natural phenomena” or “logical.” This issue is at the center of the debate. “Logical” went in at 1999, then “natural phenomena” replaced it in 2001, and now “natural phenomena” is back out.
This dispute on defining the nature of science is unique to us because Kansas has become the battleground for national creationist groups’ promotion of standards based on eliminating the science tether to “nature.” It opens up the opportunity for a teacher to use a science class to lead a student to the edge of current knowledge and then allude to the unknown as due to a non-natural explanation...Intelligent Design perhaps? As the judge noted in the Dover, PA case, this becomes a “science stopper.”
Higher math is an example of an abstract discipline that is logical but not tethered to natural phenomena. Science differs by always being tethered to reality. That is why scientists are always working in the laboratory or field.
Therefore, a definition based on “natural phenomena” must be explicit in the Kansas standards because of the unique debate Kansas has gone through since 1999. Across America, eyes are on us. If we do not restore “natural” to our science standards, Kansas will be touted by various creationist groups as having the premier model science standards for other states to follow.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.