By ANDREA HEALEY - The Kansas City Star
Date: 09/03/99 22:15
Whether life started in a swamp 6 billion years ago or a garden 6,000 years ago, Shawnee Mission students' lives won't change at all because of the Kansas State Board of Education decision on the teaching of evolution.
"Students have joked a little bit about it, asking if we'll be studying evolution this year," said Shawnee Mission East biology teacher Rick Gould. "Of course the answer is `yes.' As long as living things continue to evolve, we'll continue to study it."
Gould, along with other Shawnee Mission biology teachers, have stepped into a new school year following a recent vote by the state Board of Education to exclude the theory of evolution from state assessment tests.
The state board voted 6-4 to leave what to teach on the subject up to local school boards. However, Education Commissioner Andy Tompkins said he believed new science standards will de-emphasize evolution.
"We're going to continue to cover the same material as we have in the past," Shawnee Mission Superintendent Marjorie Kaplan said following the state board's decision. "We have confidence in our biology teachers to decide what's going to be in the curriculum."
"If (the State Board of Education) had their way, they'd do away with (evolution) all together," said Shawnee Mission South biology teacher Gene Hampton. "For six of the 10 to go in the face of experts who wrote the standards, to still come around and vote the way they did, it's hard for me to understand that."
Shawnee Mission last reviewed its science curriculum in 1996 and isn't scheduled to do so again until 2004, Kaplan said.
Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Kevin Singer said that, regardless of what the state Board of Education decided, the district would not throw away its current curriculum review process.
"From the start we've said that's not a process we're ready to throw out," Singer said. "As standards change, we don't automatically throw out the process we've been using successfully."
Singer added that even when the curriculum does come up for review again, he would be surprised if evolution were pulled from biology classes.
Until that review happens, Singer said, teachers have been reminded that there is an adopted curriculum, but they need to be cognizant of changes at the state level. Gould said Singer also reminded teachers to be cautious of what's happening in their classrooms.
Does being cautious mean that students who "don't believe in evolution" can ask for reprieves from that portion of class? It's not unheard of for students who have ethical issues with curriculum requirements, such as dissection, to ask for alternate assignments. This, Gould said, is something he hopes does not happen.
"If we just let parents sit around and decide what the students are going to learn, that would mean there would be a specialized curriculum for each individual student," he said. "It (evolution) is...one of the cornerstones of teaching biology. It's one of the themes that we work from and if we excise that out of the curriculum, it's not for the better."
Hampton agreed that it would not be a positive for students to miss out on learning the theory of evolution, but it's something he tries to be sensitive to.
"I would think we'd be obligated to abide by the parent's wishes," he said. "It would be unfortunate if it came to that, but I don't think it will be a problem with my classes because the approach I take is that I'm not out to change anyone's beliefs. It's personal...and as a science teacher, I'm obligated to present what we know in the field of science on the subject of evolution."
Thus far, neither Gould nor Hampton have had any parents or students approach them asking to cut evolution out of their classes. Singer said he has received three phone calls from district patrons who have expressed support for continued teaching of evolution[ary theory].
"Every year we may get a few parents that take issue with evolution, but it's nothing that becomes really troublesome," Gould said. "They don't browbeat us with it, (but) this is possibly an opening for more of that."
Just in case, Hampton is preparing himself for questions from parents and students when the topic of evolution is addressed in his classes. He has been collecting articles from newspapers and magazines on the Board of Education's decision, along with the opinions of noted scientists such as Stephen J. Gould.
"One of the things that is really a problem with this is that the state board keeps coming up with the question," Hampton said. "The question itself proves that they don't understand the nature of science --- all science is theory. It's all theoretical and all we're really saying is that, to the best of our knowledge, at this point in history, this is what we think is true. But that may change tomorrow."
"It's an interesting situation," Gould said. "The net effect of all of this is that Kansas has become the butt of a lot of jokes nationwide and worldwide."
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