Americana: Kansas

Education on Trial: The Evolution Controversy in Kansas
January 13, 2009 to February 07, 2009

Kansas literally lies in the middle of America. Its central location perhaps relates to the resounding moral impact that America's heartland has on the rest of the country. This was most recently seen in the controversial battles regarding the teaching of evolution that erupted in Kansas from 1999 to the present.

The National Science Teachers Association continually supports the teaching of evolution in the classroom as fact, not theory. Yet, in 1999, the Kansas Board of Education removed the teaching of evolution from the state's science curriculum. The decision was reversed and the teaching of evolution was restored in 2001, but four years later, the Kansas Board of Education approved new public school science standards that cast doubt on the theory of evolution. In the face of national and international ridicule, the Board repealed all science guidelines questioning evolution in 2007. The debates in Kansas sparked similar action in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio and most recently Florida, where evolution is now taught as one among multiple theories concerning the origins of life.

The theory of evolution's primary competition is the theory of Intelligent Design, which posits that life is irreducibly complex and cannot be merely explained by mutation and natural selection. The theory infers that there must be an intelligent designer behind creation. While it poses as a scientific theory, rather than a religious one, Intelligent Design is promoted by an organization called the Discovery Institute, which publicly emphasizes the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature.

In 2004, Bobby Henderson, founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, wrote a letter to the Kansas Board of Education urging them to include his alternative theory of Intelligent Design in their curriculum. His humorous letter, included in this exhibition, raises a serious question: if evolution is considered to be a theory, why shouldn't all creation theories be taught as well? Examining the confusing ramifications of teaching evolution as one theory among many, Education on Trial: The Evolution Controversy in Kansas, displays a range of books with competing positions on the origin of the human species, as well as two educational films used in biology classrooms. The conflicting information evokes the confusing effects of teaching opposing theories simultaneously, which leaves children to decipher fact from fiction.

Jana Blankenship

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