New Mexico Schools Will Teach Science

Roman Catholic Pastor Vincent Paul Chavez spoke representing the Santa Fe Archdiocese at protests against the rejected draft
Roman Catholic Pastor Vincent Paul Chavez spoke representing the Santa Fe Archdiocese at protests against the rejected draft standards.

Don’t tell President Trump or we can expect an angry early morning tweet! He’s not a “believer in man-made global warming.”

But in New Mexico, students will still learn about evolution and climate change in science classes. Turns out they are real. This curriculum decision, which will be implemented in the 2018-2019 school year, reverses an earlier decision to modify the state’s science standards to turn the human causes of climate change and the evolution of living things into opinions rather than scientific facts. In the rejected draft, rising average global temperatures, scientifically documented long-term trends, were magically transformed into more benign “fluctuations”.

In September, New Mexico’s Education Department released draft science standards that minimized the impact of global temperatures increases, removed references to human activity as the primary cause of climate change, and either dropped or downplayed evolution. So as not to offend religious fundamentalists and creations, they even eliminated mention that the Earth is nearly 4.6 billion years old.

Glenn Branch, the deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, charged that the draft curriculum was “intended to placate creationists and climate change deniers” and if implemented “would dumb down New Mexico’s science education.” The reversal followed protests from teachers, scientists, students, and members of the religious community. New Mexico’s Senators participated in the opposition to the draft standards.

Over 200 people attended a public hearing in Santa Fe where the draft standards were presented for public review and excoriated. Marcus White from the University of New Mexico argued this “hearing is not about science” and demanded to know what “faceless, nameless” entities were behind the proposals. Rabbi Neil Amswych claimed the draft standards called into question “the entire academic integrity of the Public Education Department.” He also attacked the state education department for refusing to acknowledge the influence of creationists, oil lobbyists and politicians in creating the draft standards. At a rally held outside the hearing, Roman Catholic pastor Vincent Paul Chavez spoke against the proposed standards on behalf of the Santa Fe Archdiocese. According to Chavez, the Roman Catholic Church supports Darwin’s theory of evolution and opposes holding children hostage to a “political-creationist agenda.”

New Mexico’s science standards will now be aligned with national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that have already been approved in eighteen other states and Washington DC. But I am concerned that the New York Times, at least based on its coverage of this controversy, may not be convinced by evidence supporting the overwhelming scientific consensus on the human cause of climate change. According to the Times, while “climate change has become apolitically charged issue, the majority of scientists” agree that warming temperatures are caused by humans and are a threat to modern civilization. I fact-checked this statement on the federal NASA website which has not yet been purged by the Trump administration.

According to NASA, 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” While I am not a mathematician, ninety-seven percent seems a lot higher than a 51% majority. It is hard to image 97% of any group agreeing on something, which makes their agreement here so powerful.

A possible Trump candidate for the Environmental Protection Agency?
A possible Trump candidate for the Environmental Protection Agency?

Ninety-seven percent scientific agreement also makes a recent decision by the Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even more troubling. The EPA removed links from its web page to dozens of online resources designed to help local governments respond to climate change. This appears to be part of the agency’s effort to assuage fossil fuel companies and keep the American people ignorant of the threat posed by global warming.

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