Q&A: Scientific Controversies in Classrooms

Published April 17, 2012

The Washington Post and New York Times recently castigated Tennessee lawmakers for encouraging teachers to teach that controversy exists around some scientific subjects including global warming, evolution, and cloning. Establishment oppression of scientific questions is widespread, and would be controversial were it more widely known. This mentality leads to repressing dissidents and maligning the opposition, which was also made evident in a recent controversy known as “Fakegate.”

In February, a scientist impersonated a Heartland Institute board member to obtain internal documents and released them to climate bloggers. One of the findings within the documents was a note Heartland planned to spend $200,000 creating “educational material suitable for K-12 students on global warming that isn’t alarmist or overtly political.” Global warming enthusiasts immediately interpreted this as a challenge to their monopoly on science education, and reacted in alarm. 

The following Q&A, the second in this series, was conducted this week with David Wojick, director of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education Center, PhD, and senior consultant for the U.S. Department of Energy. He is developing Heartland’s science curriculum. The first Q&A with him can be found here.

School Reform News: People often equate education they do not agree with to propaganda. What, in your mind, distinguishes education and propaganda?

David Wojick: I do not use the term propaganda, because it is offensive. I prefer to point out when global warming teaching materials are one-sided. But when these one-sided materials come from the Federal Government, I suppose that propaganda is the correct term. The government should not be involved in scientific debates, much less paying for educational materials that present one side of a major debate as the truth.

SRN: In your experience developing science education tools, have you come across what you would label as propaganda? Would you give an example or two?

Wojick: Federal Government is spending many millions of dollars to promote the hypothesis of human induced climate change via educational channels. For example, the National Science Foundation has a system of programs to promote one-sided climate change education. It starts with the $38 million Climate Change Education Partnership Program. See here.

On the content side NSF is funding the so-called “climate literacy” program. Literacy here means believing in dangerous human induced warming, which is a semantic trick. For example, NSF funds the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network, which has a large collection of one-sided educational materials.

SRN: How do curriculum developers avoid publishing propaganda? On the flip side of this, how does biased material make it through curriculum development?

Wojick: People write what they believe, so it is not a matter of stopping them. The important thing is to provide teachers with the choice of materials that actually present the debate.

SRN: Manmade climate change is a “hot” topic. You can tell that by just reading some of the Fakegate reporting or Heartland’s Facebook page. Why do you think it ignites such passions?

Wojick: This is now a political issue and politics is a passionate activity. The stakes are high.

SRN: With global warming alarmist organizations spending millions on education materials, how can you hope to counter them with a $200,000 budget?

Wojick: Well, I hope this is just the start. But in any case I think a lot of teachers are looking for this sort of material and the Internet is a wonderful system for delivering it. It is like the old broadside days, when freedom of the press first became a reality. Government power and money are not controlling here.

SRN: What is the most egregious accusation made against you and the planned curriculum, and why is it untrue?

Wojick: The New York Times called our project an attack on science. This is another semantic game that the alarmists are playing, claiming to somehow speak for science, which is ridiculous. Since we want both sides of the scientific debate taught, we are promoting scientific inquiry, while they are trying to stifle inquiry. Theirs is the anti-science position.

Image by Jeremy Wilburn.