Over the objections of some of its members, Utah’s State Board of Education (SBE) has decided to review its science standards for the state’s schools. This is a wise decision; the current standards are 15 years old and science has made huge advances over the past decade. Knowledge has grown, theories have arisen and been discarded and technologies have changed. As such, states should review their science standards periodically to ensure students aren’t being left behind.
A review, however, doesn’t necessitate a wholesale shift or adoption of any particular set of standards. In some areas, science has made very few new discoveries, so old theories still dominate. Most importantly, the scientific method has remained the same.
In the realm of science, schools should be teaching students how to think, not what to think. Children need to learn how to reason, hypothesize, set up tests, follow proofs and establish when a hypothesis or theory has been disconfirmed or when one seems as through it proposes a good explanation for a phenomenon.
According to reports, some members of the SBE did not want to reopen consideration of the state’s science standards, a decision that’s due, at least in part, to concerns that in the field of climate science, a field that has become highly politicized, the new standards would try to force on students the view humans are causing dangerous climate change.
Their concerns have merit. In state after state, activists and government authorities seeking to increase their own power have attempted to use fear of human-caused global warming to further centralize control of the economy, impose international redistribution of wealth and limit liberty. Utah’s SBE must not accept politicized climate science.
In numerous states, political activists, led by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), are pushing state boards of education to uncritically adopt the Next Generation Science Standards view of climate change. NCSE isn’t composed of scientists or science teachers; it’s an activist group devoted, in part, to expounding global warming alarmists’ dogma. The Next Generation Science Standards promote the false claims the science on climate change is settled, we know human activities are driving dangerous climate change, carbon dioxide is a pollutant that’s dangerous to human health and the environment and that policymakers and scientists fully understand how to counteract the effects of climate change or control long-term global temperature.
Science shows carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, that humans produce greenhouse gas emissions and that humans have had some effect on Earth’s climate. However, important issues remain unanswered: Are humans or other natural conditions responsible for the majority of the past century’s warming? Is global warming, on balance, bad or good for humanity? If humans are responsible, and the results are generally harmful, what are the best responses? On each of these points, there is widespread disagreement, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.
Being willing to challenge existing beliefs and consider all the available evidence has been a cornerstone of scientific discovery since the Enlightenment, but, sadly, on the questions of climate, the Next Generation Science Standards have abandoned the scientific method in favor of alarmists’ orthodoxy.
Recognizing the political, one-size-fits all nature of the Next Generation Science Standards, most states have refused to adopt them. Some states have attempted to ensure that when climate science is taught in their schools, it acknowledges the significant debate ongoing within the scientific community about the causes and consequences of climate change.
For instance, in April 2015, West Virginia’s State Board of Education adopted a modified version of the national science standards with regard to climate change. Where the original standards required students to ask questions only about the rise in global temperature, ignoring temperature declines, the new standards require them to discuss “changes,” including temperature increases, declines and stasis. In addition, the amended standards add “natural forces” as an area of study for its possible influence on climate change.
The amended climate science standards were intended to “ensure students will develop skills to acknowledge and distinguish claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, support arguments with evidence, and communicate about science related topics/issues in a knowledgeable, clear and objective manner.”
More recently, in May 2017, Idaho’s Department of Education approved a balanced view of climate science. Its updated K–12 science standards recognize, “Human activities can have consequences (positive and negative) on the biosphere, sometimes altering natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species.”
The climate is always changing. However, the debate over whether human activities are responsible for all, some or none of the recent climate change remains very much alive and well.
Schoolchildren in Utah deserve the truth. They can handle it. And on the causes and possible consequences of climate change, the scientific truth is there’s too much we just don’t know.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]), is a research fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.