"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Parent Letter on New Science Standards: "I believe that science is absolute, but man's understanding of science is what shifts."

We are nearing the end of the 90-day public comment period on the proposed Utah Science Standards (that are a direct copy and paste of the Next Generation Science Standards).  Please take the time TODAY to read the standards and to fill out the survey for our State Board of Education.  If you don't comment, you get what those in power want you to have.  The NGSS were adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education.  A lawsuit was brought against them, stating that the NGSS violated First Amendment rights by promoting an anti-theistic worldview.  The lawsuit was dismissed, stating that, "parents and children who are plaintiffs as “bystanders” whose injuries from the standards are abstract, rather than concrete and particular, opponents argue."  You may like the standards, but you have to wonder if parents and the children who are subjected to these standards do not have legal 'standing' then who does get to sue about standards?  So, the answer is to weigh in before they are adopted!

You can see Grades 6 -8 here: http://www.schools.utah.gov/CURR/science/Revision.aspx  The NGSS standards are located here: http://www.nextgenscience.org/next-generation-science-standards And (MOST IMPORTANT), the survey can be found here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SciencePublicReview You can make comments about the process, as well as the specific standards, even though the survey doesn't mention the process.  For my concerns, go here

I am sharing with you a letter from Julie King, a mother, a trained social worker, and involved parent about her concerns with adopting the NGSS.  It is reprinted with her permission.  Please note, she uses anatomically correct terms and discusses concerns with the national human sexuality standards, as well.  I find her human sexuality standards discussion relevant, but will leave it to her letter to explain why.

Dear State School Board Members:

I wanted to share my thoughts about the science standards.  I have several concerns with the standards.  First, my greatest concern with the standards is our own reliance on our limited human understanding.  I believe that science is absolute, but man's understanding of science is what shifts. I remember being taught in college that infants do not feel pain and I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. Guess what? That was recently found to be false. But up until about 1987, it was common for infants to be given paralytics for surgery, but no pain medication. It sounds pretty barbaric.

We are constantly learning things we had no idea about from neuroplasticity to whether or not Pluto is a planet.  We used to believe that cigarettes were great and that nicotine was not addictive.  Once again, the substances or science did not change, our understanding of it did.  Part of science curriculum should be addressing these limitations, learning about how we have made mistakes and corrected them, as well as studying scientists such as Madame Curie, Galileo, and Edison.

Second, I have a problem with the USOE presenting the SEED as Utah-created when it is plagiarized from Next Generation Science Standards.  Plagiarism is “the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.”  As far as I can tell, the only adjustment to the NGSS has been renumerating the standards for SEED as well as removing 2 words.  Other than that, it is a word-for-word paste and copy.  In addition to that, Fordham recently evaluated our current standards as well as NGSS.  Utah standards were given a B and NGSS was given a C.  Why are we trading our science standards for poorer ones?  If we need to update our standards, we should do that and not take a color-coded science standard and assume it is superior because it is a national standard.

Third, there are holes in the NGSS.  There is a lack of computer science as well as chemistry and the lack of any human anatomy is what raises a red flag for me.  Why would we completely eliminate human anatomy?  Here comes the crazy conspiracy theory- because once that hole in the standards is “discovered,” we will be able to patch it with the National Sexual Education Standards.  But that is crazy, right?  Utah would never adopt national sex ed standards.  Just like we were told repeatedly we would never adopt national science standards.   This is actually my field of expertise.  I am a social worker and have taught child abuse prevention programs to preschoolers up to PhD candidates.  I have worked with abused children and sex offenders, rape victims and domestic violence victims.  I have also been a foster parent.  I am not a prude.  My children have learned and used anatomically correct terminology since they learned to speak.  My sons learned that they have a penis and my girls learned they have a vagina.  They have also been taught about what is appropriate and inappropriate touch.  I have no problem being forthright with my children.  We talk about everything from date rape to roofies.  Those are hard conversations and best answered by parents in their home, articulating their belief systems and principles.  I have been trained in how to talk to children about sexuality and appropriate boundaries.  This is what the standards say-“By the end of 2nd grade, students should be able to:  use proper names for body parts, including male and female anatomy.”  This standard is actually a K-2 standard which means that this content can be introduced in kindergarten.  My kindergarten-aged children were able to do this without a problem.  But this was taught at home.  Now imagine that Johnny blurts out that Uncle Jimmy touches his penis.  The other kids laugh, the teacher reacts in a shocked manner, and Johnny feels ashamed.  Johnny is teased on the playground and called names.  When we put teachers in a place to teach something this sensitive when they are not trained properly, we revictimize kids.  Do I want Johnny to disclose this abuse?  Absolutely!  But I want it to be done in a way that makes him feel safe and does not revictimize him.  And throwing in a professional development once a year about teaching sex ed standards is not enough.  The potential to damage our children with sex ed standards when not taught appropriately is astounding.  And our most vulnerable children-those who suffer abuse-will be the ones who pay the highest price.

Fourth, there is obvious bias in the standards.  By only looking at the grade 6-8 standards, we lose the overview of what NGSS truly is.  We need to look at the K-12 standards.  Let’s be real-we are not going to adopt NGSS for 6-8 and not the rest of the grades.  I was taught evolution and I have no problem with teaching about global warming or climate change.  But I also think this goes back to my first comment that what we understand about science constantly changes.  In my sex ed class in high school, I was taught that watching porn is a normal and sexually healthy activity that everybody does.  We are now starting to see how addictive and poisonous pornography is.  We need to be aware of what we teach as fact and what we present as theory.  One of the points in science we should focus on is asking why? and constantly questioning what we feel we know.  Part of true science is being willing to question things and doubt.  We need to look at what our focus is.  When they are over 50 mentions of climate change and only one reference to electric circuits, we are overemphasizing one idea and excluding others.  Am I ok with my kids learning about climate change?  Absolutely!  But I am not OK with my kindergartener being asked to solve global warming .  The following is a kindergarten standard:
Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.* [Clarification Statement: Examples of human impact on the land could include cutting trees to produce paper and using resources to produce bottles. Examples of solutions could include reusing paper and recycling cans and bottles.]
Do you know what kindergarten science should be?  The five senses, weather, and the life cycle of a butterfly and ladybug.  Maybe planting seeds and learning about how plants grow.  That’s it.  When was the last time when you were in a kindergarten class with 25 active children?  With less than 3 hours a day, kindergarten should largely be about reading and learning to follow rules.  Rules like keep your hands and feet to yourself and take turns.  Not about rationing paper so that less trees are cut down.

I hope that you seriously consider the feedback from parents as we are often in classrooms and see the challenges that teachers and their students face when we apply top-down approaches to education.

Julie King
Mother of 4 children (ages 16, 13, 11, and 8)
School Community Council representative for an Alpine School District School and a charter school (UCAS)
PTA member and Westlake council president-elect