Some Hope for Education in the US

Filed Under (Environmentalisms) by Gregory Nicaise on 08-03-2013

So, remember those Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that Commissioner Holiday mentioned to me three posts ago?  Well they are now making news and are expected to be released by the end of the month.  These new national education standards could mean big changes for the face environmental education in the US.  While these particular changes may not do much for developing the emotional and moral connections to nature that I talked about in my latest post, these changes have the potential to legitimize climate change and evolution, and weed out the skeptical political debates from public education.  As I brought up two posts ago, the politicalization of education is a huge barrier to environmental education in formal settings, especially within the topics of climate change and evolution.  As scientific consensus over these subjects is verified through public education, this may give way a depoliticalization of environmental education as a whole, and greater emphasis throughout all states.

Contrary to previous national science standards which largely ignored input from states, the NGSS was written by Kentucky and 25 other states.  Because of this collaboration, all 26  of these states are expected to adopt the new standards and 15 others have indicated they may follow in suit.  Even though the NGSS have not been released yet, big textbook companies like McGraw-Hill are already adopting their books to the new curriculum, based on their anticipation that 80-90% of states will adopt them.

Some states, like Texas, value their own state right to create their own curriculums, or others (like the ones mention 2 posts ago) have already adopted “academic freedom bills”, which may make it difficult for these standards to pass.  These bills have been supported by groups, like the Heartland Institute, that oppose efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and have put resources into developing teaching materials and curriculum that is meant to cast doubt on the reliability of climate change models.  Overall, though these standards have been kept under the radar though, as to avoid political controversy, and many conservative think tanks have failed to notice them.  The important point, is that these standards are not mandatory and are meant to be guidelines; as it seems though, the majority of states will accept these guidelines or at least consider them in their educational goals.

If these standards are accepted they will cause various changes across the board, but I will just focus on the changes to climate change education for this blog entry.  The NGSS require that the scientific consensus that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels is causing the climate to warm.  It is recommended that this education starts in elementary school within all science classes and by 8th grade human-induced climate change should be fully understood.  In high school, teachers are to frame climate change as a prolbem to which humans need to adapt to and a solve, and students are presented with problems that could plague future cities and asked to seek solutions.

Overall, the NGSS seems like a breakthrough in environmental ed. in the US, but there may be some problems with it too. An implication of my last post is that increased standardization may limit schools ability to adaptively teach and dedicate resources to place-based education.  The homogenization of national education standards removes any possibility of local education opportunities and makes teachers reliant on textbooks and curriculums.  Additionally, one article I viewed questioned whether there was so much climate education that students are getting bored with it, viewing it as a school topic rather than a global crisis.  These are just a few complications of NGSS, but please comment and let me know if you can think of some more.

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