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Administrating Controversy

A Washington Post blog points out that the Heartland Institute
is encouraging schools to present global warming as a controversial
concept to students in grades K-12. If state legislators weigh in on
this issue, we will be the ones to implement their policies. And that
might be an extremely difficult task. Keep reading to find out why.

The referenced article can be found here: Washington Post

Articles like this are the reason I chose the nonprofit
track at Binghamton University.

Fast forward 10 years. It’s 10:30 a.m., and you’re sitting
in your office inside your state’s Department of Education building, drinking
coffee and working on your latest report. The state has just passed a law
mandating school teachers to tell all their students that humans are
contributing to changes in the earth’s climate. A high school principal calls
your office. Her most effective teacher
is going to resign due to this legislation. Her question is simple: “Do I
really have to tell him there is nothing I can do to save his job?” In order to
do your own, you have to tell her yes. And on that day, I really don’t want to
have your job.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe wholeheartedly that humans are
contributing to climate change. In fact, it is difficult for me to understand
how there are educated people who will still argue with me about this. But
there are, and their voices matter just as much as mine.

Admittedly, the scenario I described above is a bit
dramatic. But it’s not out of the question. In 1925, John
Scopes was arrested
for teaching evolution in Tennessee, which is a theory
that many people today consider to be one of the most prominent in the history
of science. And to me, state legislation on the topic of evolution in schools
was inevitable in 1925, and similar legislation regarding climate change is inevitable

States have control over educational curriculum. Thus, a low
regarding which side(s) of a controversial issue can or should be taught must
come at least initially from the state level. Thankfully, states have thus far
been fairly silent on this issue, with the exception of Louisiana, which
specifically allows
teachers to introduce students to critiques of scientific theories.

But with the competing interests of well-funded
organizations like the Heartland Institute
and the National Center for Science Education
now at play, states are eventually going to have to provide some direction to
our educators. To not weigh in on the matter is the equivalent of leaving “non-partisan”
(heavy emphasis on the quotes) think tanks like these to guide our most important
street-level bureaucrats. Leaving our teachers to fend for themselves on this
issue for the next 10 years is certainly a scary thought. But the passage of
state legislation requiring teachers to silence the opinions of a minority group
is downright terrifying.

So when states can no longer avoid this issue, which will
probably be sooner rather than later, I certainly hope we can avoid the kind of
law that was passed in Tennessee in the 1920s. Such a law could impact our
professional lives as future public administrators. But far more importantly,
it could impact our children’s education.

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