What Can 50,000 Teachers + NCSE Accomplish?
We're about to find out...
A few weeks ago, my colleague Stephanie Keep wrote about the expansion of NCSE’s efforts from a focus solely on evolution and climate change to a larger effort to “support the development of a ‘science-savvy’ citizenry”.
As she pointed out:
“NCSE was founded in the midst of calculated efforts by evolution-deniers to alter how science was taught in public schools. Educators, parents, community members and others needed help getting organized to counter attempts to teach creationism. NCSE became—and remains—the #1 go-to place for advice, support, and action when science denial comes knocking on the doors of our schools. The metaphor we use around the office is that where there is a fire, NCSE will show up to hand out fire extinguishers.”
She went on, though, to talk about a problem we have here at NCSE. We keep running around with fire extinguishers putting out brushfires rather than going after the fuel that science denial feeds on: a profound misunderstanding of the nature of science and a distrust of the scientific enterprise. We see this affecting many areas of science, not just climate change and evolution. Everything from an understanding of the Big Bang to vaccine acceptance is under threat.
Of course NCSE can’t solve this problem alone—we are a tiny organization—but we can do something, and we can start by building on our roots. NCSE has over 30 years of experience defending the teaching of science in public schools, whether it is taking on legislators when they introduce bills that would allow the teaching of creationism, ensuring that textbooks present science accurately, or helping communities organize to support good quality science standards. But we believe we can do more—notably, doing more to support science teachers.
Teachers are on the frontline of science education but they get little thanks for it. When science grades are low, we blame science teachers—even as administrators and local governments steadily reduce the resources teachers need. When a goofy school board member tries to bring anti-science materials into a district, it’s teachers who have to deal with the fallout. When polls suggest that the public has a poor grasp of scientific issues, whose fault is it? That’s right, it’s those darn science teachers.
That’s not fair, and we want it to stop.
Science educators are an integral part of the scientific enterprise. Without them we would have no doctors, no researchers, and no citizens who understand and respect the role of science in their daily lives. We need science educators, and they need our support.
So what does that mean for NCSE? We know that more effective science teaching isn’t just about getting kids to memorize facts. When teachers are asked to cover topics like evolution and climate change, they have to contend with the confusion and doubts that students bring into the classroom. We can help science educators teaching these socially contentious topics. We have the background, the experience and the knowhow to combat science denial at its roots. Our goal is to give science teachers the support and respect that they need to teach science forthrightly even when there is societal pressure not to.
As a result, we are launching our first ever teacher network called NCSEteach – complete with a teacher advisory board. The network will bring science teachers together, allow educators to connect with one another (and NCSE staff), guide them to good-quality and well-vetted resources, share stories of how they have dealt with challenges to science education and also connect them to early career scientists as a resource and partner in advancing the scientific enterprise.
Science teachers are the first and last hope for science in America. We need them to be strong and confident advocates for the good science, as Stephanie said, to help students “GET IT.”
If you are interested in joining NCSEteach, you can sign up here and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. If you are not a teacher, but want to support us as we reach out to teachers across the country, you can donate to our cause here (write in the comments of the donation page “Go Teachers!”)
Teachers, we are depending on you! But you are not alone, NCSE is here to help.