Scientific Illiteracy in Our House (of Representatives)

Yes, the U.S. Congress did pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454), but within Congress—in the House—there was clear evidence of “scientific illiteracy.”  And no, it was not the kind of thinking that we as science teachers advocate.  It turns out that one of the U.S. Representatives from Georgia, Paul Broun, who represents citizens of Georgia in Congressional District 10 (in the Athens, GA area) appears to advocate illiteracy.  During the debate on H.R. 2454, Broun stated “Scientists all over this world say that the idea of human induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community. It is a hoax. There is no scientific consensus.”  

These comments are not surprising from this Georgia Congressman (read about him here), but it serves to support Mooney and Kirchenbaum’s thesis of their new book, Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens America.  Here we have a member of Congress who denies the research on climate change, and makes false statements on the costs of the bill and how it would affect American households.  Broun needs to consider a very basic idea, and that is: “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”  Instead of doing his homework, and finding out how we have continued to get “free lunches from the Earth,” this man continues his demeanor as a denier of climate change and global warming, and serves as a poster-child for perpetuating ignorance in the face of searching for truth on one of of serious problems we face today.  Our continued greed in taking from the Earth has come home to roost as seen in the warmest years on record, the melting of ice caps, the acceleration North of climates (New Hampshire could have a climate like North Carolina) as temperatures have increased, and many other examples. 

Although his remarks received applause from some Republicans, other Representatives voted for the bill because of his incendiary and  ignorant remarks.  By the way, Broun has a medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia!

In an editorial piece entitled Betraying the Planet, Paul Krugman points out that many who voted against the bill did so because of an overall rejection of the idea of greenhouse gasses, climate change, and global warming.  As others have pointed out, these represent the “deniers,” who simply are too lazy to pursue any investigation into the knowledge that has been accumulated by scientists around the world about climate change.  Even their own government has just recently issued a report entitled Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Sciences developed by the US Climate Change Science Program.  Climate literacy—can you believe that!

Scientific illiteracy is not something to treat lightly.  Mooney and Kirshenbaum have devoted an entire book to the subject, and cite scientist’s lament about the public’s “scientific illiteracy.”  Yet when we have Representatives such as Broun as a talking head in Washington, we see that the illiteracy that appears to be rampant in society, is even more so in our House (of Representatives). 

My own experience working with youth on issues such as global warming and climate change would put to shame Rep. Broun’s ignorance of one of the greatest problems facing our citizens, not only here, but around the world.  There is more to talk about here, but that will come later this week.  I think I want to listen to a baseball game!

Scientific Illiteracy

There is a very interesting book by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum that will be published in July. It is titled Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens America. The authors explore the rift between science and mainstream American culture, and even refer to C. P. Snow’s famous book, The Two Cultures. I think this book will be especially relevant in that here we have a science writer and editor teamed with a professional scientist exploring the world of science in the very beginning of a new administration in Washington that has vowed to incorporate science into its decision-making, unlike previous administration. In fact, if you haven’t already, you might want to explore Mooney’s previous book, The Republican War on Science, which was a powerful exhortation on how science was largely ignored some some years. mooney

You can visit their blog at Discover Magazine and explore their review and interpretation of science, technology and the future.

For science teachers, I think this will be a valuable book as we think about the nature of science in our schools, and what we might do to help students develop a scientific literacy that is relevant to their lives, and to the issues that are current, and will have a lasting impact on their future.

Action-Oriented Science Education

Last night my wife and I had dinner with very close friends of ours, Jenny & Dennis Springer. Dr. Jenny Springer, former principal of Dunwoody High School, and Associate Superintendent of Dekalb County Schools (Georgia) was an administrator that created an environment in which teachers thrived, and excelled in their work with students. I first met her in 1986 while I was teaching a course at Georgia State University that was based in a DeKalb County High School at which she was principal. By this time I had been involved with the Association for Humanistic Psychology Soviet-Exchange Project, and I mentioned to Dr. Springer that I was interested in having her involved in the work that we were doing. She indicated real interest.

In 1987 she became principal of Dunwoody High School, and it was in that context that I invited her to be a participant in an AHP education exchange with research institutions, and schools in Moscow, and St. Petersburg. Over the next 15 years, she became an integral person in the development and actualization of the Global Thinking Project that sought to develop and sustain an action-oriented and Internet-based environmental education curriculum between American and Soviet (at the time it was still the U.S.S.R.) teachers and students. During this period of time, she was instrumental in supporting teacher and student exchanges among American and Russian teachers and students (later expanding to other countries including Australia, the Czech Republic, and Spain).

In a recent paper in the Journal for Activist Science & Technology Education, Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Towards an Action-oriented Science Curriculum, Derek Hodson calls for a science curriculum that is rooted in the idea of giving student the chance to confront real world issues. In fact, Hodson believes strongly in the politicization of the science curriculum by focusing the content of science in socially and personally relevant contexts, and issues-based teaching. This form of teaching of course is not new (as Hodson points out), but it requires a paradigm shift in our thinking regarding what the purpose is of teaching science. Science teaching, using Hodson’s approach, suggests that we ground ourselves in humanistic science education, as reported by Glen Aikenhead.

Twenty-years ago, through the efforts of administrators such as Dr. Jenny Springer, hundreds of American and Russian students, and their teachers were involved in an action-oriented curriculum—the Global Thinking Project curriculum. Implementing a curriculum that is based on humanistic science requires the support of innovative teachers and administrators. Dr. Springer, together with her counterpart in Russia, Mr. Vadim Zhudov, principal of School 710 Moscow, forged new connections that enabled their students and teachers to be involved in a ground-breaking action-oriented science program.

Although we hadn’t seen the Springers in several years, it was a reminder that fulfilling the promise of a relevant, and socially-conscious science curriculum for students requires courageous teachers and administrators like Jenny Springer.

Promoting Personal, Social and Ecological Science Education

Within the science education community there has been a movement to explore the relationships among science, technology and society (STS), and this movement has a long history.  In fact, its history parallels the more conventional or traditional view of science education that has dominated most curriculum and pedagogy over the last century.  But alongside has been this other framework that had aims involving not only applications of science, but how science could contribute to the well-being of individuals and society.

This week, I received an announcement introducing a new project, and supporting new journal.  The project, known as PASTE (Project for Activist Science & Technology Education) is an online community of educators, scientists, engineers, students, policy-makers and others aiming to promote personal, social and ecological wellbeing. 

One of the features of PASTE is what the organization calls a community-reviewed journal.  The journal, called JASTE (Journal for Activist Science & Technology Education) will publish contributions about research and action relating activist science teaching.  The journal is a free publication, and you can read the first issue at the JASTE site.  Here is the contents of the first issue:

  • Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Towards an Action-oriented Science Curriculum – Derek Hodson (pp. 1-15)
  • Activism or Science/Technology Education as Byproduct of Capacity Building – Wolff-Michael Roth (pp. 16-31)
  • Science Teacher Activism: The Case of Environmental Education – Michael Tan (pp. 32-43)
  • Transcending the Age of Stupid: Learning to Imagine Ourselves Differently – Leo Elshof (pp. 44-56)
  • Globalisation and Learner-centred Pedagogies: Some Thoughts – Lyn Carter (pp. 57-60)
  • Globalization, Food Security, Public Health and Prosperity Focus on India – Shiv Chopra (pp. 61-64)
  • Anti-capitalist/Pro-communitarian Science & Technology Education – Larry Bencze & Steve Alsop (pp. 65-84)
  • Feeling the Weight of the World: Visual Journeys in Science & Technology Education- Steve Alsop & Sheliza Ibrahim (pp. 85-104)

I think this is an important project, and hope you have a chance to check their site, and journal.

Science Education Conference, Istanbul, Turkey: September 2009

One of the posts that I made last October was the announcement of a science education research conference that will be held in Istanbul, Turkey, August 31 – September 4, 2009.  I head from many colleagues, especially science educators in Africa and the Middle East who indicated strong interest in attending the conference.  All of their inquiries were passed along to Fatih Tasar, Professor of Science Education at Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey. Dr. Tasar is one of the organizers of the conference.

The conference is the annual meeting of the European Science Education Research Association.  There are hundreds of papers, interactive poster presentations, round table discussions, symposia, panel discussions, and workshops.  You see lists of these presentations at this link

For more information about this conference you should visit the conference website.