New Mexico values science. From its legacy as birthplace of the atomic bomb to its two national scientific laboratories to its research universities and perhaps most of all, to the environmental sciences that place value on land, water and air, this is a state that understands how knowledge and its application can improve our lives.
For this state — of all states — to adopt even a hint of pseudo-science in its curriculum should be out of the question. Yet that is apparently what the state Public Education Department is seeking to do with new science standards that would omit key scientific concepts, including those on evolution and climate change.
Until Oct. 16, the education department is accepting feedback on the proposal to update science standards for the first time since 2003. Input needs to be loud and overwhelming. (One Santa Fe Public Schools board member wants a protest; we say, picket the hearing and give testimony). These “science” standards need adjusting.
New Mexico’s new guidelines are based on the Next Generation Science Standards, a curriculum for grades K-12 developed by scientists and educators in 26 states.
Throughout the recommended content standards, human-caused climate change is mentioned. New Mexico’s altered standards would eliminate such mentions. There’s even a brand-new standard for New Mexico that asks students to “describe the benefits associated with technologies related to the local industries and energy production.” That’s an obvious shoutout to the oil and gas industry, although enterprising students might wax eloquent about wind farms or solar energy.
In 2017, in a world where education will be key to finding good jobs and attracting industry, New Mexico cannot afford to dumb down its science curriculum. Especially not in the last year of a lame-duck governor’s administration. The governor, in fact, had the opportunity to sign legislation adopting the Next Generation Science Standards; she vetoed it instead.
Already, the proposed standards are receiving unwanted national publicity, including articles in Mother Jones magazine, newspapers and blog posts around the country.
Politics — and kowtowing to a fundamentalist, conservative base — has no place in our schools. That’s especially true in a multi-cultural state where the creationist theory hardly dominates religious discussion. Roman Catholics, after all, while holding to their spiritual beliefs, have established great universities and supported scientific research (despite taking centuries to apologize to Galileo). Native students in public schools have their own beliefs about creation. They don’t need to be fed creationism in school; in fact, doing so likely insults their spiritual beliefs. This also shortchanges students who need the best, most up-to-date education.
Science is complex. As more information is learned, even established scientific context can change; that does not mean, however, that some facts are not widely accepted. Those include the age of Earth and the belief that this planet is heating up. A student’s opinions on evolution and whether Earth was created 10,000 years ago (as creationists believe) or 4.5 billion years ago (as science reveals) are beside the point.
What does matter in science is what the evidence shows, including the examination of fossils, geography and the other clues left over the centuries that reveal the ancient history of this planet.
That holds true with the study of atmospheric science or climate, where the proposed standards seem to avoid the reasons that climate is changing and weather events are becoming more extreme. The standards change the phrase “rise in global temperatures” to “fluctuation in global temperatures,” suggesting global temperatures are not on the rise. In fact, they are.
The state has said that the new standards are an attempt to include the diversity of New Mexico. Instead, these standards cater to a small slice of New Mexicans, people occupying a place where where dogma trumps science and believers want to impose their views on the rest of us. Such blatant pandering in no way prepares students for the challenges of the world.
Comments on the proposed science standards are being accepted through 5 p.m. Oct. 16. By email, send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, via fax to 505-827-6681, or by direct mail courtesy of Jamie Gonzales, Policy Division, New Mexico Public Education Department, Room 101, 300 Don Gaspar Ave. Santa Fe, NM 87501. The Public Education Department has scheduled a hearing to receive public input on the proposal from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 16 in Mabry Hall at the Jerry Apodaca Education Building, 300 Don Gaspar Ave. The standards can be read online at www.ped.state.nm.us.