School boards can have legitimate arguments over what kind of lessons should be included in a comprehensive science curriculum. But whether to include the teaching of evolution is not an arguable point. You cannot understand modern biology without it.
Since writing On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859, Darwin's assertion that diverse organisms have common ancestors and that over the history of the Earth there have been great changes in living beings has taken its place as the unifying principle of biology. It has withstood the test of time, having been repeatedly affirmed by naturalists, geneticists, biologists, archaeologists and virtually any other "ists" you care to name.
Except, of course, creationists. Some who hold the view that the Earth was created and peopled as described in the book of Genesis think evolution challenges their faith. Not content with holding this view as a personal belief, some creationists have tried to inculcate the public schools with their philosophy. But courts keep standing in their way.
Over a decade ago the Supreme Court ruled that the teaching of so-called "creation science" in public schools unconstitutionally mixes church and state. To bypass these roadblocks, the creationist movement adopted a new strategy. Rather than try to bring Genesis into the classroom, it tries to banish Darwin.
On Wednesday, the Kansas Board of Education gave that effort a boost.
The board voted 6-4 to exclude any questions on evolution from the state assessment tests and to adopt a new set of science standards that are silent on the subject. Although local school districts will still be free to teach evolution, the board is clearly not encouraging it.
The science standards adopted by the board initially had been drafted by a committee of 27 science educators and included evolution. Then a three-member subcommittee of the board, controlled by social conservatives, struck out references to evolution. So chagrined were members of the science educators committee, that John Staver, its co-chair, told reporters that every member of his committee he'd spoken with, which was more than half the members, wanted to take his or her name off the standards as adopted.
As students, parents and educators in Kansas begin their new school year it must be disheartening to know that the state's education leaders have chosen ignorance over enlightenment. Rather than preparing students to compete academically with fellow students around the country and the world, Kansas school board members would rather keep students in the dark on questions of how life began and diversified on Earth. Ironically, the board must have little faith in the persuasiveness of the creationism doctrine since it's clearly afraid to open students up to alternative views.
After the vote, Kansas Gov. Bill Graves released a statement saying: "This is a terrible, tragic, embarrassing solution to a problem that didn't exist." The only word we can add to the governor's statement is, amen.