A Win for Science in Kansas

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June 13 2013 8:00 AM

A Win for Science in Kansas

No controversy here.
There is no controversy.

Photo by Teach the Controversy T-shirts modified by Phil Plait

When it comes to writing about attacks on science, there’s rarely good news to report, so I’m savoring this: Once again, the Kansas state Board of Education (BoE) approved solid science standards for students in the Sunflower State.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies!  

Science standards are a set of guidelines used by teachers to help them educate students; they list recommendations and goals for what the students should understand by a certain grade level. For example, by eighth grade, they should know that visible light is only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which also includes radio waves, infrared, ultraviolet, and so on. Each state has its own standards, and there’s a national set as well.

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There are standards for quite a few fields of science, like chemistry, physics, astronomy … and biology. Of course, fundamentalists went ballistic about this and a few years back sneakily got creationists elected to the BoE. They twice voted to severely weaken the teaching of evolution. This—rightly—made Kansas the laughingstock of the planet.

In 2006, more moderate folks were elected to the board, and sure enough, soon thereafter, years of far-right religious damage was undone in Kansas when the BoE voted to put evolution back in the science standards where it belonged. And now, in 2013, it’s happened again—the BoE approved science standards that support evolution and its wonderfully coherent and cohesive explanations of biology. I looked over the old (2007) standards and the new ones where they discuss evolution, and they look pretty good to me. Creationists have also attacked such things as the Big Bang and, of course, global warming, but I see those are in the science standards as well.

Hooray!

Of course, not everyone agrees with me. In the SFGate.com article linked in the first paragraph, I got some grim amusement by the quoted comment of Ken Willard, a conservative (and creationist) representing Kansas District 7 on the BoE. He said:

Both evolution and human cause of global climate change are presented in these standards dogmatically. This nonobjective, unscientific approach to education standards amounts to little more than indoctrination in political correctness.

Oh, those wacky truth twisters. As I’ve pointed out before, loud voices of anti-science commonly accuse those of us in the reality-based community of doing what they themselves do. Contrary to what Willard is saying, evolution and global warming are indeed represented quite fairly in the standards. Denying them, as Willard would have us do, is what would be dogmatic and unscientific.

I’ll note that Willard’s district includes the city of Hutchison, which is home to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, an extraordinary museum devoted to science and space exploration. There may be some irony in that.

There were other objections to the new standards, but those were, happily, in the minority. In the end, the BoE voted 8-2 to approve the standards and keep real science in the classroom.

I congratulate the BoE and hope that they serve as an exemplar for other, less enlightened states.

Louisiana, I’m looking at you.