Public outcry puts science back in science class

By Mona Blaber, Rio Grande Chapter communications coordinator

Well, that didn’t last long.

In September, when the Public Education Department quietly released a proposal that removed climate change, evolution and the age of the Earth from an otherwise stellar science curriculum, they likely weren’t expecting what came next.

Once word got out that the state’s proposed science curriculum censored critical science knowledge, New Mexicans leaped into action.

The Rio Grande Chapter led a coalition of education, faith, good-government and other community groups working together to spread public awareness about the standards, which determine what is taught and tested in New Mexico public schools — including charter schools.

More than 700 Sierra Club supporters sent comments asking the department to adopt the full, unedited Next Generation Science Standards — which were developed by the National Academy of Sciences, National Science Teachers Association and American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“The New Mexico Science Teachers’ Association and its members voted in 2013 to support adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards. They have continued to advocate on behalf of the NGSS, in full, as written,” said Ellen Loehman, New Mexico Science Teachers Association. “They do not accept the ‘tinkered’ version of standards proposed by the New Mexico Public Education Department.”

The department held its only public hearing on Oct. 16. Here’s how the Albuquerque Journal described it:

“Hundreds jammed into a crowded auditorium Monday and waited up to seven hours to urge state officials to abandon proposed science education standards during a chaotic public meeting interrupted at one point by a fire alarm.”

Teachers, scientists, businesspeople, students, parents and many others spoke in opposition to the politicized edits. No one spoke in support.

“Faith leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Bahai, Buddhist, Indigenous, Christian and other faiths agree with science that humans are in part responsible for climate change,” said Sister Joan Brown of Interfaith Power and Light. “We need to educate our children of all faith traditions with sound science, because they will be making ethical and moral decisions into the future.”

Many participants left frustrated because they couldn’t even get into the packed hearing room to give their comments.

But dozens of people being turned away from a packed hearing made a lot of noise in the press, and the next day, Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowszki announced that climate change would be added back to the standards, as would most of the other most controversial omissions.

Teachers warned that there were many other questionable edits that would be difficult to implement, but a few days later, the department said it would adopt the full Next Generation framework, with just six additional standards.

Regular people willing to take time out of their day to defend education and our children’s future are responsible for this victory.

There was little time to savor victory, however, as a few days later, N.M. Rep. Andres Romero discovered that the state had removed Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and other key topics such as trust-busting from end-of-year social-studies tests. Time to snap back into action!

Public outcry puts science back in science class