Nearly 30 years of teaching evolution in Kansas has taught Brad
Williamson to expect resistance, but even this veteran of the
trenches now has his work cut out for him when students raise their
That's because critics of Charles Darwin's theory of natural
selection are equipping families with books, DVDs, and a list of "10
questions to ask your biology teacher."
The intent is to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of students as
to the veracity of Darwin's theory of evolution.
The result is a climate that makes biology class tougher to
teach. Some teachers say class time is now wasted on questions that
are not science-based. Others say the increasingly charged
atmosphere has simply forced them to work harder to find ways to
On Thursday, the Science Hearings Committee of the Kansas State
Board of Education begins hearings to reopen questions on the
teaching of evolution in state schools.
The Kansas board has a famously zigzag record with respect to
evolution. In 1999, it acted to remove most references to evolution
from the state's science standards. The next year, a new - and less
conservative - board reaffirmed evolution as a key concept that
Kansas students must learn.
Now, however, conservatives are in the majority on the board
again and have raised the question of whether science classes in
Kansas schools need to include more information about alternatives
to Darwin's theory.
But those alternatives, some science teachers report, are already
making their way into the classroom - by way of their students.
In a certain sense, stiff resistance on the part of some US
students to the theory of evolution should come as no surprise.
Even after decades of debate, Americans remain deeply ambivalent
about the notion that the theory of natural selection can explain
creation and its genesis.
A Gallup poll late last year showed that only 28 percent of
Americans accept the theory of evolution, while 48 percent adhere to
creationism - the belief that an intelligent being is responsible
for the creation of the earth and its inhabitants.
But if reluctance to accept evolution is not new, the ways in
which students are resisting its teachings are changing.
"The argument was always in the past the monkey-ancestor deal,"
says Mr. Williamson, who teaches at Olathe East High School. "Today
there are many more arguments that kids bring to class, a whole
fleet of arguments, and they're all drawn out of the efforts by
different groups, like the intelligent design [proponents]."
It creates an uncomfortable atmosphere in the classroom,
Williamson says - one that he doesn't like. "I don't want to ever be
in a confrontational mode with those kids ... I find it
disheartening as a teacher."
Williamson and his Kansas colleagues aren't alone. An informal
survey released in April from the National Science Teachers
Association found that 31 percent of the 1,050 respondents said they
feel pressure to include "creationism, intelligent design, or other
nonscientific alternatives to evolution in their science classroom."
These findings confirm the experience of Gerry Wheeler, the
group's executive director, who says that about half the teachers he
talks to tell him they feel ideological pressure when they teach
And according to the survey, while 20 percent of the teachers say
the pressure comes from parents, 22 percent say it comes primarily
In this climate, science teachers say they must find new methods
to defuse what has become a politically and emotionally charged
atmosphere in the classroom. But in some cases doing so also means
learning to handle well-organized efforts to raise doubts about
Darwin's detractors say their goal is more science, not less, in
The Seattle-based Discovery Institute distributes a DVD, "Icons
of Evolution," that encourages viewers to doubt Darwinian theory. …