Opinion: Proposed science curriculum changes not a bad thing

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The article “PED proposes education changes,” in The Taos News, Oct. 5, was, I believe, somewhat alarmist and misrepresented what the changes would do – beginning with the very first sentence: “Imagine a world where high school science teachers are no longer required to teach their students of [sic] evolution and climate change.” 

The PED proposal suggests no such thing. Under the performance expectations for grade[s] 9-12, it states this (under the subhead Natural Selection and Evolution): “Analyze, interpret, and communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.” 

With regard to Earth’s age the new proposal says: “Evaluate evidence of the past and current movements of continental and oceanic crust and the theory of plate tectonics to explain the ages of crustal rocks,” and “Apply scientific reasoning and evidence from ancient Earth materials, meteorites, and other planetary surfaces to construct an account of Earth’s formation and early history,” and, finally, “Construct an argument based on evidence about the evolution of Earth’s systems and life on Earth.”

This is precisely how scientists have gone about formulating their theory for the age of the Earth. The fact that the standard doesn’t specifically require teachers to say that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old isn’t entirely relevant, since this is all about performance standards for the students and not what teachers should say, or how they should teach.

With climate change, the new proposal says this: “Analyze data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or climate fluctuation and associated future impacts to Earth systems.” I think that is a fair statement. Yes, it doesn’t actually come out and say climate change, but I would argue that fluctuation is change.

It is a bit alarming to see every single word of the current standards crossed out. And, in many ways, the proposed standards lack something because of some of the things that were left out. For instance, these wonderful words: 

“Identify how science has produced knowledge that is relevant to individual health and material prosperity; know that reasonable people may disagree about some issues that are of interest to both science and religion (e.g., the origin of life on earth, the cause of the big bang, the future of earth); identify important questions that scientists cannot answer (e.g., questions that are beyond today’s science, decisions that science can only help to make, and questions that are inherently outside of the realm of science); understand that scientists have characteristics in common with other individuals (e.g., employment and career needs, curiosity, desire to perform public service, greed, preconceptions and biases, temptation to be unethical, core values including honesty and openness); know that science plays a role in many different kinds of careers and activities (e.g., public service, volunteers, public office holders, researchers, teachers, doctors, nurses, technicians, farmers, ranchers).”

Yet, for all that was lost, it seems to me that the (proposed) new version is far more comprehensive than the current version, because it requires students to actually apply what they have been taught.

– McMacken is a resident of Taos and firm “believer” in all things science.

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