Sunday, December 2, 2012

Science: It's not the economy, NGSS

Achieve plays a strategic role in ensuring that U.S students have the knowledge and skills they need to compete in an increasingly flat and complex world. 
Craig R. Barrett, Chair 
credit Tobias Higbie

I teach science, or try to, anyway.

I spend considerable effort to show my lambs that the natural world is not flat, in any sense of the word. I need reminding myself now and again--peeking at the Andromeda Galaxy last night helped reset my priorities, as it does.

The human economic world may be getting increasingly complex, but human complexity cannot approach the infinite and surprisingly orderly world that surrounds us, is us.

The Next Generation Science Standards for Today’s Students and Tomorrow’s Workforce makes no bones about its agenda--it is an economic, not educational, initiative developed to produce workers for the global economy, not critical thinkers who can solve local problems like what to do with the all the poo produced by a local apartment complex, or how to clean up the radioactive waste left behind by Westinghouse from the Manhattan Project, or the myriad other problems vexing Bloomfield.

Your town has problems, too, we all do--but in Chairman Barrett's world, our problems are trivial.

You could argue, of course, that the NGSS folks share a common goal with my local Board of Education. Surely both want a child who can think. But here's a critical difference--my local board wants my children to know Bloomfield, wants my children to stay in Bloomfield, wants my children to succeed in Bloomfield, wants my children to help Bloomfield prosper.

The global economy has been unkind to my town, and likely yours, too. Mr. Barrett does not care about my town--he has grander abstract "villages" to conquer.

What if I truly taught my lambs to know their town, its life, its infrastructure, its geology?
What if I truly taught my lambs to love the ground beneath their feet?
What if I truly taught my lambs how industrial extraction works, about externalizing costs (like the radioactive field we have here in town) while maximizing profits for companies that shuttered their doors here just a generation ago?

A global economy requires a flattening of local quirks. I get this, I really do--it's frustrating to have 6 different types of phone chargers when a universal one will do, to have computer programs that won't talk to each other, to have nuts and bolts that won't thread together.

We need standards. I obviously need to get to the program.

But what do I tell a child who asks why we dare not eat fish from the Hackensack River?
I'm OK with Adam Smith and "the invisible hand"--it's the "invisible costs"that make me cringe.

So long as the NGSS folks and I are just preaching science, we'll get along just fine, even if they are still a little confused about what science is. (A kindergartener spouting off the phrase "a thermometer is a tool scientists use to measure temperature" is not science, it's the road to Asperger Lite.)

I don't mind helping them out. Just don't be upset if the natural world doesn't quite bend to the vision of a flat world the NGSS preaches.

Science is funny like that.

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