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Now evolving in biology classes: a testier climate

Some science teachers say they're encountering fresh resistance to the topic of evolution - and it's coming from their students.

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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 hands.

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 skirt controversy.

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.

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