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American K-12 science education gone bad

February 17, 2021

American science education is transitioning and not in a good way.

I don’t often write an article about someone else’s article but Shepard Barbash’s deeply researched piece “Science betrayed” deserves a wide readership. His subtitle says it all: “The propaganda infecting K12 science curricula, especially on the environment, wont go away.”

Barbash first looks at the history, then where we are today. The entrenchment of the great green message really got going in the 60’s and 70’s, to the point where it is now just business as usual in teacher education and the textbooks. No wonder millions are marching.

But now it is getting systematically much worse. The so-called Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) govern over a third of America’s K-12 public school students, with more on the way. State science standards say what will be taught in each grade. The conventional state standards have been relatively neutral when it comes to green propaganda, while the NGSS are full of it. They also don’t care much for scientific knowledge.

The article is full of great quotes. On the history side here is a good one from 1983:

For the moment at least, ecological doomsayers rule the cultural roost. Fire-and-brimstone logic is combined with fear-and-doomsday psychology in textbooks around the country. [The story] could be retold tens of thousands of times, about children in public and private schools, in high schools and at elementary levels, with conservative and with liberal teachers, in wealthy neighborhoods and in poor. A tidal wave of pessimism has swept across the country, leaving in its wake grief, despair, immobility, and paralysis. . . . Why should our students be misled?

That “moment” has lasted for almost 30 years and the doomsaying just gets worse with the onset of climate change hysteria.

Here is Barbash’s succinct summary: “This fear has suffused curricula since the 1970s with an ever-growing list of alarms: pesticides, smog, water pollution, forest fires, species extinction, overpopulation, famine, rain forest destruction, natural resource scarcity, ozone depletion, acid rain, and the great absorbing panic of our time: global warming.

These premises inform everything about environmental education: the standards of learning that states impose on school districts; the position statements from the associations of science teachers; the course work and texts in education schools; the training that educators receive throughout their careers; and the textbooks, lesson plans, field trips, and homework assigned in all grades.”

The NGSS really pile on the climate change hysteria. Here is how Barbash explains it:

The phrase climate change” appears in the document as a core idea” for middle and high school. The phenomenon is presented as fact, as are its supposed consequences—loss of biodiversity, species extinction, changing rainfall patterns, disruption of the global food supply, glacial ice loss, and mass migration due to rising sea levels. Nowhere do the standards say that both the nature of the phenomenon and its consequences are matters of pitched debate, or that rival theories to explain climate change exist—put forth not by flat-earthers or disbelieving parsons but by serious scientists.

In most conventional state standards, climate change is a minor topic taught in the high school Earth Science class, which is an elective that many students do not take. The NGSS make the climate scare a required topic in middle school, when most students are too young to question it. To date 19 states have adopted the alarmist NGSS.

Barbash says the Feds are also very active in pushing green climate propaganda:

At least 15 federal or federally funded websites offer free teaching materials about climate change and its dangers. The entities include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, and U.S. Global Change Research Program. The sites offer thousands of resources, including lesson plans, games, and videos for all grades. No website funded by government or universities or K12 education groups is devoted to teaching about the scientific debate.”

How the NGSS teaches science in general also gets a good look:

The Next Generation Science Standards are so convoluted that it is hard to imagine how they would help anybody teach any science at all, much less a fast-changing, contested science like climatology. Many concepts are too generic. Heres one for third through fifth grade: Peoples needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies.” Many performance expectations are unclear. Heres one for kindergartners: Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull.” What kind of data will a five-year-old analyze? Other standards pack too much science into one statement, often without sufficient instruction from earlier grades. This one for high school would challenge a graduate student: Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.”

I too think the NGSS are a big step backward when it comes to teaching science. In many places they replace the detailed scientific knowledge called for in the state standards they replace with hopelessly vague concepts.

Even worse, these vague concepts are embedded in a 3-D matrix. In addition to substituting abstract concepts for scientific knowledge, the NGSS have a three dimensional structure. They do not realize that if each dimension has just 20 concepts there are 8,000 combinations. If 100 concepts each then 1,000,000 combos.

Thus the NGSS are a prescription for confusion. In fact I think they are having trouble with the testing. In the NGSS case there should be national or international test scores becoming available at the state level, so we can see how well or badly the teaching under these strange new standards is doing.

In short the green propaganda in K-12 science education has been a growing problem for decades. But now under the Next Generation Science Standards it is quickly getting a lot worse. There is much more on this green wave in Barbash’s article so I recommend it highly.

American science education is transitioning and not in a good way.

[Originally posted on Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT)]

David Wojick is a former consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science.

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