Science Education Now About Squelching Science?
Dr. Sharon Camp
Analytical Chemist and Educator,
Senior Education Advisor, CO2 Coalition
[Editor’s Note: How did science education become about adopting politically correct opinions and squelching real science where continuous questioning is always the rule?]
Never have I been so inspired upon being removed from a venue. Actually, as a retired teacher of AP (advanced placement) environmental sciences and chemistry, I haven’t been escorted from very many places. Perhaps none. I should explain.
I am a member of the CO2 Coalition, in Arlington, Virginia, where I wear my scientist hat – a B.S. in geology and Ph.D. in analytical chemistry – and serve on the organization’s education committee. In supporting our mission of educating the public and policymakers on the benefits of carbon dioxide and the role of the gas in Earth’s ecosystems, I tap into my teaching and science backgrounds.
As one of four people chosen to represent the CO2 Coalition at the March meeting of the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) in Atlanta, I looked forward to returning to a conference I found so engaging as a teacher. Thousands of educators congregate at the annual meeting to hear lectures and explore the displays of hundreds of vendors for new tools to use for labs and lessons.
I did not quite know what to expect from teachers visiting the CO2 Coalition’s conference display.
On the one hand, we offered educational materials, including beautifully designed comic books and entertaining videos, and lesson plans. All would be useful in teaching the science behind carbon dioxide as an atmospheric gas and plant fertilizer. However, we also had a newly published paper that is critical of the NSTA’s position on teaching climate change.
The 40,000-member association’s position paper, “The Teaching of Climate Science,” instructs teachers to conform to the so-called consensus that human-induced emissions of carbon dioxide will cause dangerous heating of the atmosphere and to dismiss contradictory evidence.
The association accepts the opinions of various organizations backing the popular global-warming theory while rejecting the differing views of thousands of scientists. Such dissenters include researchers of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who disagree with the IPCC’s politicized, official reports to the public, and the CO2 Coalition’s more than 100 members. The plain truth is that the NSTA position ignores the tenets of the 400-year-old scientific method.
For a teacher of science like me, the scientific method is more than some formalized procedure. It requires that a student be able to write a hypothesis, design experiments to test the proposition, accurately collect high-quality data, and apply critical thinking to findings.
My labs were data-driven, meaning students were to have no preconceived notions about the results of experiments. Rather, they were to rely on the analysis of data gathered with care and integrity. Students applied the scientific method and critical thinking to actual experiments instead of learning only about abstract concepts.
How can somebody with my regard for science sit quietly by when a national organization claiming to represent 40,000 members tosses aside an empirical approach to discovery that has underpinned western civilization for centuries? How to remain silent when those claiming educational dominion over children require their adherence to an unscientific methodology and censorship of dissenting voices? Well, I can’t.
So, there I stood in an Atlanta conference center with colleagues (a communications specialist, a geologist and IPCC reviewer, and a Ph.D. in chemistry), eager to share our knowledge and educational aids – and wondering how our critique of NSTA’s views on climate change would be received.
At first, we were overwhelmed by an enthusiastically appreciative response from educators, including teachers from public and private institutions and homeschoolers. We ran out of lesson plans in two hours. There clearly was a need for non-politicized material on the science behind photosynthesis, cellular respiration, carbon dioxide, and other atmospheric gases.
More than half the teachers we encountered expressed doubts about the rhetoric of climate alarmists. Surprisingly to us, even more were shocked to learn of NSTA’s position on teaching climate change and its unquestioning rejection of evidence contradicting establishment orthodoxy. Most of the teachers – unlike, apparently, NSTA leadership – understood science to be a process of continual inquiry and debate guided by testable data.
By halfway through the conference’s second day, nearly all our material had been distributed. It was then that organizers of the NSTA gathering insisted that we stop sharing our critique of the association’s anti-science position. For refusing to yield to this censorship, we were escorted from the building.
We were, nonetheless, encouraged by finding so many educators hungry for honest discovery and, in some cases, grateful for scientific information utterly new to them. We concluded that NSTA’s narrow approach to learning is being driven by a politically-correct bureaucracy disconnected from a significant number of the association’s members.
There is hope for science education in America. Our work continues.
This commentary was first published at [Your] News, April 25, 2023, and can be accessed here.
Sharon Camp has a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Georgia Tech. She has worked in industry, for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and as an advanced placement environmental science teacher. She is the Senior Education Advisor for the CO2 Coalition, in Arlington, Virginia.
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