Instruction on the rules of grammar in an English class or about a triangle’s hypotenuse in a maths class rarely devolves into raised voices and angry debate.
But wander into the world of science standard-setting, and you’re likely to encounter a few topics that roil emotion.
In US science education, “the two topics that arouse the most discontent and controversy are climate change and evolution,” Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, told Business Insider.
Standard-setting around climate change appears to be a type of tug of war over the nomenclature allowed. Some standards unequivocally link human contributions to climate change, others mention the term but nothing further, and still others may soon include language about climate change denial.
Texas, for example, introduced a bill referencing teachers’ academic freedom in teaching science standards, which some experts say would allow for climate change denial and therefore undermine science education.
A conservative think tank called The Heartland Institute has been mailing a book challenging climate change to more than 300,000 US science teachers, despite the fact that there is overwhelming evidence that humans are contributing to climate change.
And The New York times recently published a profile on an Ohio high school, highlighting that climate science issues were so divisive that a student grew agitated during a documentary she disagreed with and sprinted out of class.
Evolution instruction, too, incites state legislative debate, stalling in standard and curriculum setting, and community outrage.
Laws passed in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee have laws allowing teachers academic freedom in teaching creationism, rather than evolution, in science classes. Other states, Alabama or Louisiana, are working to pass such bills, which some experts also say undermine science education.
Public K-12 education standards are set at the state, and not federal level, which means science standards vary widely by state. However, a group of states has recently signed up to adopt the same learning goals: the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
Nineteen states plus the District of Columbia now have the same standards for teaching the earth sciences, and link human activities to climate change. The standards do not mention human evolution.
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