Sunday, September 27, 2020
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Wyo. scientists want NGSS reconsidered

More than 40 scientists at the University of Wyoming drafted and signed a letter, directed to the state’s education department, objecting to the very real possibility in the state that the Next Generation Science Standards won’t be adopted.

Wyoming Scientists’ Position Paper

The Next Generation Science Standards have been adopted by 10 state-level agencies so far—California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington—and other states, like Illinois, are strongly favoring them. In Wyoming, several school districts have actually begun implementing the standards, even though the state hasn’t officially adopted them yet.

And why hasn’t Wyoming adopted the standards, despite a unanimous recommendation from a committee appointed to review them? Because a footnote in the state’s budget directs the state board not to adopt the NGSS.

So, school officials are going to try to piece together a set of science standards, probably using Indiana’s creation of a very Common Core-like set of math and English standards as an inspiration, that will address the concerns of business leaders, politicians, and the general public in Wyoming. Good luck with that. Nobody’s sure Wyoming has the time or human resources to build a set of science standards from scratch, but that’s beside the point.

The point here is that politicians want to put Wyoming’s label on the science standards taught in Wyoming’s schools and not just follow the national standards. That’s understandable, since politicians like saying their own work is worthy. But the main complaint about the NGSS isn’t that it’s not Wyoming-specific; rather, the main complaint is that it brings in climate change as a negative effect of fossil fuel extraction without pointing out the positive effects fossil fuel extraction and use has had on Wyoming’s economy.

“You hate to be negative, but I don’t think that we’ll come out with a product that’s anywhere near the Next Generation Science Standards,” the Casper Star-Tribune quoted Pete Gosar, a state board member and former chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party, as saying. “And that’s unfortunate.”

We agree and so do the scientists.

The reason for the budget footnote is that politicians want climate change to be taught in context with the role fossil fuel energy production has played in Wyoming’s agricultural economy. “I still don’t have a problem with teaching [climate change] in our schools,” the Star-Tribune quoted State Board of Education Chairman Ron Micheli as saying. “I don’t have a problem examining it from all sides, as long as it’s represented in a fair and balanced approach.”

The scientists, in their paper, written as individuals and not in any way attached to the University of Wyoming, say the economics discussion would be more appropriate in a social studies class than a science class.

We have long felt the debate on climate change is over. Look, in social studies, we often teach how slavery boosted the economy of southern states before the Civil War. And we can certainly teach that extraction of fossil fuels has benefited the economy of certain regions. But those regions, Wyoming included, will simply have to adapt to new methods of energy production, or the good people in the state will see the bottom drop out of their economy.

Learning about the scientific method will lead Wyoming’s students to be better prepared to adapt to new, cleaner energy-production technologies and possibly bring a few patents to state residents.

Furthermore, it’s usually better to watch the road as we’re driving than to look in the rear-view mirror. We can no more advance technology to get more energy out of fossil fuels than study discipline methods to get more cotton per acre for our economy out of slaves. We can no more pollute our planet than ruin the lives of blacks in slave states. Study the past? Absolutely. Continue prior policies in the face of new evidence? Not gonna happen.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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