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Right-wing state legislators are trying to destroy science education, analysis warns

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A new analysis warns that right-wing lawmakers across the United States are working to water down science education, as students around the world hold weekly school strikes, calling on adults take action to address the human-made climate crisis.

The Washington Post—citing the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), which tracks anti-science legislation—reported Monday that state legislators already have introduced more than a dozen measures targeting science education in 2019. That’s more in less than three months than NCSE typically expects for an entire year.

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Detailing some of the proposals, the Post reported:

A state lawmaker in Connecticut, for example, has proposed prohibiting the use of the Next Generation Science Standards, which were developed by states to improve science education and have been adopted by 19 states and the District of Columbia. A similar proposal was introduced in Iowa.

State Rep. John Piscopo (R-Conn.) introduced one bill to eliminate the section on climate change from the standards and another to prohibit schools from using the standards at all.

…In Florida, GOP state Sen. Dennis Baxley wants to pass a bill requiring schools to teach “controversial theories and concepts” in science standards in a “factual, objective, and balanced manner.”

…Two other bills in Florida, for example, would require instructional materials in public schools to “provide objective, balanced, and noninflammatory viewpoints on controversial issues.”

While some bills already have failed, NCSE deputy director Glenn Branch emphasized that it is still important to make people aware of efforts to weaken science education—especially with respect to legislation that doesn’t specifically mention climate or science more broadly, but would ultimately impact what is allowed in the classroom.

“They’re not aware there’s a sizable constituency that likes to see these bills introduced and hopes they will be passed,” Branch told the Post. “The only way to be sure they don’t pass is to raise public awareness of them and to localize concerns about the integrity of public science education by speaking about them.”

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Last month, Branch published a blog post on NCSE’s website outlining 14 anti-science measures introduced this year. The list includes bills in Indiana and South Carolina that would allow school districts to teach creationism as well as so-called “anti-indoctrination” legislation in Arizona, Maine, South Dakota, and Virginia.

Anti-indoctrination measures, as Branch explained,

would require (or, in the case of resolutions, encourage) the adoption of codes of ethics for K–12 teachers, purportedly to prevent them from engaging in “political or ideological indoctrination.” These codes would prohibit teachers from advocating for any side of a “controversial” issue, where controversial issues are those addressed as part of a political party’s platform. As it happens, climate change and evolution are mentioned in the platform of a handful of state political parties, even though they are anything but scientifically controversial, so science education would be affected.

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Amid the wave of attacks on science education, some state lawmakers, such as Washington state Sen. Claire Wilson (D), are fighting back with measures designed to enhance science education. In January, Wilson introduced a bill (pdf) that aims to “increase learning opportunities and improve educational outcomes in climate science literacy.”

“We know there’s a growing crisis called climate change,” Wilson told the Post, “and we believe it’s underrecognized by many people… We cannot crack this nut and deal with it until we believe it’s true and we start teaching young people about it and have them help us come up with the solution.”

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