The battle for science education in our schools
Our human existence in the modern world is utterly dependent on science and technology. Yet the troubling trend in the U.S. is that science education, mathematics and critical thinking skills are declining. Some argue that the decline of science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM) has never been that good or that its decline is not as bad as often reported, the fact remains that a vigorous STEM curriculum, combined with principles of critical thinking are paramount for the future of civilization.
The Next Generation Science Standards: from Reagan to now
In April the Next Generation Science Standards were released, building on an initiative that started as far back as the 1980s with a Reagan administration study entitled A Nation at Risk warming of the danger of allowing public education to slip compared to other nations.
Following publication of the report, federal agencies over the next decade created national guidelines for nearly all academic subjects. The guidelines were never mandatory but meant to help states with their own educational guidelines. Unfortunately, science education standards were not included in the effort.
Finally, the National Research Council published the National Science Education Standards in 1996 but were largely ignored because they were developed with no input from the states.
In 2010 the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics were adopted by 45 states in collaboration with the National Governors Association, teachers, and education experts from many states. With this collaborative approach as a model, the National Research Council decided to give it another go, embarking on the development of a new set of science education standards.
For states, by states
Joining in the effort this time were 26 states, 10 of them the most populous in the nation, all committing financial resources and personnel to help write the new science standards. Ensuring that these standards be based on the latest science was key, says Heidi Schweingruber, deputy director of the National Research Council’s Board on Science Education, especially for the highly-charged topics of evolution and climate change, “which had become so politicized that scientists and educators feared students didn’t know how to separate scientific fact from religious beliefs or political opinion,” writes Katherine Bagley of Inside Climate News.
Climate change hadn’t even been mentioned in previous iterations of science education standards, and many teachers opted out altogether in an attempt to avoid controversy. But climate science can’t be avoided, even if some wish it could. Science has evolved, and human-caused climate change is much better understood today than it was 15 years ago. “There was no way we could have left it out,” Schweingruber says. “It is such an active area of research … and it hit on every criterion we set for whether to include a topic in the standards.” More than ever, including climate change in the basic science curriculum is imperative for educating the generations that will bear the brunt of its consequences.
“Climate is a topic that generations to come will have to deal with,” says Frank Niepold, climate education coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Students today will have to be skillful and knowledgeable about the topic to be able to address the challenges it will present. If we don’t educate them now, chances are we never will.”
But for some, sowing doubt and fear among teachers and parents, and thus students, is the goal. The Heartland Institute is funding a smear campaign to block the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards. Leaked documents from 2013 show Heartland promoting a well-funded campaign of partisan climate pseudoscience intended as an “alternative” K-12 science curriculum.
Climate Parents is one of many organizations advocating for climate science education in schools and a main sponsor of the Climate Science Students Bill of Rights, an effort to push back against efforts, like those from the Heartland Institute, to stop the new science education standards and push an agenda of climate denial.
“It’s unacceptable for students to be denied information about this crisis,” says Climate Parents memeber John Friedrich. “Young people need to be given the tools to develop solutions” to help solve the the problem of climate change.”
Thus far Wyoming is the only state to reject outright the Next Generation Science Standards, claiming they are too “prejudiced… against fossil fuel development.” Oklahoma is close on Wyoming’s heels and controversy is brewing in other states as well. So the battle lines are drawn. Concerned teachers, scientists and parents are demanding a “bill of rights” for climate science education in our schools.
Sponsored by Climate Parents, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Center for Science Education and the Alliance for Climate Education, the Climate Science Students Bill of Rights helps raise awareness of the urgent need for consistent, standardized, non-politicized climate science education across the nation. The first step is ensuring that the Next Generation Science Standards become the benchmark for science education.
People have every right to cling to their delusions. But they don’t have the right to teach it to our children as science.
Climate Science Students Bill of Rights – All students, in every state, have the right to:
- Receive the highest quality science education as determined by educators, free from ideological or political interference.
- Explore the causes and consequences of climate change.
- Learn that meaningful solutions to slowing climate change exist.
- Examine the data and evidence that leads to the established scientific consensus on climate change in a learning environment that encourages inquiry, questioning and understanding.
- Understand how climate science informs social, political, and personal decision-making.
Image credit: wikipedia, argonne national laboratory and climatesciencerights.org