Sabotaging Science: Creationist Strategies in the '90's

Aftermath of the Kansas Board Decision

The reaction to the Kansas Board’s action was immediate, as news headlines around the country can attest. Lest anyone imagine the debate to be purely theoretical, consider the effect the Board’s decision has already had on Kansas’ educational institutions, business community, public image, and choice of accurately-written textbooks.

Consider, for example, the warning of a nationally renowned scientist to her colleagues that they stay away from Kansas. Maxine Singer, awarded the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award in 1988 by President Reagan, and winner of the prestigious National Medal of Science wrote, “I would not recommend anyone to take a position in biology in Kansas.” Her comment was made in response to a recruitment letter from biology professor Gary Conrad at Kansas State University. “The students who come to Kansas State University will not have had appropriate preparation in biology in high school to undertake serious study,” she wrote. “[T]eaching biology without evolution would be like teaching civics without reference to the United States Constitution.” Further, “Anyone considering moving to Kansas would have to be concerned about the sort of education that their children would receive.”17

Professor Conrad agreed, and worries that the vote will hurt universities’ ability to recruit top-quality faculty. “What young faculty recruit in his or her right mind would come to a state where evolution and geologic time scales would not be taught, or watered down when taught,” he asked.17

One of the world’s largest scientific societies, the American Chemical Society, quickly passed a resolution stating that the Kansas Board’s decision “is a giant step backward for Kansas and should sound an alarm for every parent, teacher and student in the United States.”18

The business community has taken note of the Board’s decision as well. The president of an Oregon software company scratched Topeka off his list of locations for his company’s new regional technical center. Citing the Board’s vote, he stated that his priority “is whether or not we can count on finding a good selection of well-educated future employees in the area… Following [the Board’s] decision, that is in doubt.” Indiana and Iowa now head the software company’s list.19

Naturally, such headlines disturb Governor Bill Graves and local chambers of commerce. Graves’ spokesman noted, “We don’t want to give them an excuse not to look at Kansas. The governor has a concern this will do just that.”20 On the day of the Board’s vote, Gov. Graves issued a one-sentence statement: “This is a terrible, tragic, embarrassing solution to a problem that did not exist.”21

Textbook content has already been affected as well. One Nevada-based publisher removed a chapter on Kansas geology and paleontology from a state history textbook for fear that it would be otherwise unmarketable. Kansas—The Prairie Spirit Lives (working title) no longer makes any reference to fossils, nor mentions that the state had at one time been covered with water. Neither does it mention the mosasaur, an extinct sea lizard whose fossilized remains children can visit at a natural history museum in Hays, Kansas.22 One Wichita paleontologist called the publisher’s action “a unique form of censorship.” “The next thing you know, we will be removing the Holocaust from history textbooks because it’s objectionable to some people,” said Kansas State Board member Bill Wagnon, who voted against the majority.23

In the newest wrinkle to this controversy, the Board will have to rewrite a substantial portion of the science standards, which rely heavily on the National Science Education Standards (published by the National Research Council), Benchmarks for Science Literacy (published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science) and Pathways to the Science Standards (published by the National Science Teachers Association).24 Following the Board’s vote, these three national science organizations denied the Board permission to utilize the portions of their standards as revised by the Kansas Board.25

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