Cotherman: How to compound mistakes

2014-05-24T08:45:00Z Cotherman: How to compound mistakesBy AUDREY COTHERMAN Casper Star-Tribune Online
May 24, 2014 8:45 am  • 

Sometimes, it’s hard to recognize genius when it comes disguised as stupidity. A good example of this was the last-minute footnote to the Legislature’s budget bill that prohibited the implementation of the national science standards. It’s not often a single, small footnote, accomplishes four objectives. Whether it is sheer brilliance or amazing ignorance, depends, I suppose, on the individual’s perspective.

Despite the fact that science teachers and scientists were involved for many months in designing up-dated science standards, the Legislature, without discussion, decided, evidently, that the curriculum contained two “theories” that shouldn’t be taught to children. Theory No. 1 was evolution and theory No. 2 was global warming, i.e., climate change.

Though evidence suggests that people are adding to an impure air that may be causing global warming, a legislator suggests that if it means that industries may cut into their profits by making their emissions as clean as possible, it is not something young people ought to know about… even if it could kill them.

I suppose it isn’t the first time that economic interests take precedence over other values. Maybe without them, we’d still believe the earth is flat. I understand it was ship owners who knew that they would risk their profits if the earth was flat and their ships fell off, who declared the earth was round. Or maybe they agreed with scientists for economic reasons.

Maybe it’s just me, who doesn’t know much about science that thinks it’s wise to takes the word of people who have spent a life time on such matters, but evidently the elevation to elected office automatically confers wisdom that exceeds those who have spent a life time on a matter.

Lawmakers, including the governor, have been told what they’ve done to students by refusing the science standards, and some may believe it. But I wonder if they’ve thought about what other ways the footnote violated the public? There are three other principles they violated.

First of all, they have violated local control. They are not in charge of the curriculum. That’s a "how" question best decided by those who know something about subject matter, learning and teaching and were elected to local school boards. It is ironic that the people who decided to usurp the local control of education, a concept that has been “sacred” in Wyoming, are the very ones who resent any control by the national government. Evidently, local control means state control.

The second violation is the violation of the separation of church and state. As a member of the vestry in my church, I want those politicians in Cheyenne, or Washington, D.C., to stay out of my religious beliefs. I doubt if even the legislators know the mind of God.

Third, the Legislature evidently assumes that the purpose of education is about economics. If science affects the cost of doing business in Wyoming, then it can’t be science. Indeed, there is concern all over the country that the purpose of education has changed from being the preparation of citizens (knowledge of our history, literature, majority rule, science, math) to the preparation of workers in Wyoming when technology is changing those occupations rapidly.

I suppose we should applaud a Legislature that in one tiny footnote can violate young people’s right to the best knowledge available, the local control of school boards, the separation of church and state, and the purpose of the founding Fathers in creating mandatory, free, education. But I don’t.

It is difficult to accomplish four objectives in one small footnote, and it takes either a genius or a fool to pass and sign such a law. Didn’t the state officials learn anything about the limitations of their authority (and expertise) through Senate File 104?

Let’s hope that thoughtful officials will reverse their actions on science education in the name of educational quality, student rights, local control, division of church and state and the purpose of public education.

Audrey M. Cotherman, Ed.D., is a former Wyoming deputy state superintendent of schools and member of the Natrona County School District Board of Trustees.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(3) Comments

  1. pappy
    Report Abuse
    pappy - May 24, 2014 12:13 pm
    An excellent editorial. There have been a lot of changes in my lifetime including many things I was taught in school but at least I was provided the best information at the time. One of the best lesson I learned is that it is okay to question. As you so nicely said you don't have to have and education to be an expert on everything, you only have to elected to the WY legislature or Governors office. Some legislators have become such authorities that they don't even allow their proposals to be debated by their fellow legislators or the public. The legislature and the Governor don't wants us to question the status quo.
  2. commonsnese
    Report Abuse
    commonsnese - May 24, 2014 10:42 am
    It is always nice to hear the voice of reason. Thank you for your comments.
  3. Lodgepole
    Report Abuse
    Lodgepole - May 24, 2014 9:09 am
    Let's hope they listen to you.
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