Friday, October 18, 2013

Science Controversies in Kansas

When a friend and I took our kids to the Dinosaurs Unearthed exhibit at Wichita's Exploration Place this summer, we were startled by this notice at the main entrance to the exhibit.

Considering that Wichita's Sedgwick County Zoo, the most popular tourist attraction in the state of Kansas, prides itself on not presenting visitors with any references to evolution, I shouldn't have been surprised. This zoo, 18th largest in the nation and sponsored by numerous corporation and local businesses, offers numerous educational programs. Their parking lot is often filled with school buses, and the zoo reimburses Title 1 schools for transportation costs. They also cater to homeschoolers, offering special presentations, discounted admission days, and educational resources available for nominal rental fees. As a homeschooling mom at one of these events, I was impressed at how well the zoo staff knew their audience: the presenter volunteered that the zoo is careful to avoid any mention of evolution or long time frames in any of their educational materials.  

By contrast, Botanica, Wichita's botanical gardens, quietly displays a subtle statement outside the butterfly garden. When I first visited the gardens as a young earth creationist, I noticed the little sign and it made me slightly uncomfortable, as if I'd encountered a thorn in the midst of Eden.

The Beil limestone at the base of the sign.

This month, we visited the Denver area. We spent a day at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, touched ancient fossils and dinosaur footprints at Dinosaur Ridge, and learned more about dating rocks at the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum. The exhibits were all so matter-of-fact about simply presenting the evidence. No one was walking on eggshells or trying to skirt the issue of evolution.

Today, back in Kansas, there is fresh controversy over science standards. According to,
"The State Board of Education is asking Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to defend it in a lawsuit over its decision to adopt new science standards. Board members met with their attorney in executive session this week about the federal lawsuit filed last month by an anti-evolution group called Citizens for Objective Public Education.
. . .
"The lawsuit names the board and individual members as defendants. It contends the new science standards promote atheism and violate the religious rights of students and parents.
"The standards were developed by Kansas, 25 other states and the National Research Council. They treat evolution and climate change as key scientific concepts to be taught from kindergarten through 12th grade.
These Next Generation Science Standards state that "science is a way of explaining the natural world." They go on to explain: "Indeed, the only consistent characteristic of scientific knowledge across the disciplines is that scientific knowledge itself is open to revision in light of new evidence."

But revision in light of of new evidence makes many people uneasy, so the controversy over how to educate our children will go on. My daughter's middle school teacher offered a disclaimer in case the video she showed on "origins" should conflict with what any student's traditions or beliefs. 

This sign, along a walking trail at the Wichita's Great Plains Nature Center, illustrates just how controversial the subject of geologic time continues to be in Kansas, and how strongly it stirs people's emotions. 

This interpretive sign was vandalized by a zealous visitor.

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