After only six months on the job, the spokesman for the Kansas Department of Education, David S. Awbrey, resigned last month, saying that he found the way education policy is made in the state to be “kind of frightening.”
Mr. Awbrey, 57, said in an interview June 23, his last day at the department, that he took the job after more than 30 years as a journalist in Kansas and Vermont because he was interested in “peeking in behind closed doors” to watch education policymaking.
But Mr. Awbrey, who says he has been called everything from a fascist to a communist based on his past stances as an editorial writer, said that he found the political climate in the state to be intensely polarized—so much so that the “extremes” at both ends of the political spectrum “are running the show in Kansas.”
Controversial actions by the state board of education have made national headlines over the past several years. For example, during Mr. Awbrey’s tenure, the conservative majority on the state board adopted an “opt in” policy for sex education.
The board also added language in its accreditation standards encouraging schools to offer abstinence-until-marriage programs in health education.
Kathy Martin, a member of the state board, disagreed with Mr. Awbrey’s assessment, and said that the board, in passing its policies regarding sex education, was looking for “the best message for everybody.”
“The ones who are the extremes are the ones who won’t allow any other ideas into the classroom,” she added.
In May, Mr. Awbrey drew the media’s attention after an appearance at a Kansas City Press Club forum on intelligent design—the belief that life on Earth is so complex that a divine hand must have played a role in its creation. In his talk, he challenged the intellectual constructs of various sides of the debate over human origin.
According to an audio recording, he asked, “Anyone see the origin? Anyone see the Big Bang? Anyone see the dinosaurs? These are metaphysical speculations.”
He has said that the negative reaction to his comments had nothing to do with his decision to resign. The whole matter, he said, was “blown out of proportion.”
Rather, he plans to move to Springfield, Mo., four hours southeast of Topeka, where his wife and 6-year-old daughter reside. He will teach middle school social studies there.
A version of this article appeared in the July 12, 2006 edition of Education Week