There are times, as a teacher of biology when I suffer what I call math envy. See, none of my math teacher colleagues ever have to defend the fact that 2 + 2 = 4. This is a well-established fact; accepted by mathematicians around the world.
Teaching biology, though, I find myself defending the well-established facts of science on a regular basis. The dynamic 4.6 billion year history of Earth and the ever-evolving nature of life are favorite targets of anti-science pundits.
2 + 2 = 4 and other math facts don’t face such challenges. This is not merely because of professional consensus. Rather, its because no one outside the field of mathematics stands to gain anything by asserting that 2 + 2 = 6.
Professional consensus fails to protect the basic facts of geology and biology from an unfounded challenge because non-scientists have something to gain. Emotional comfort and prophets’ profits are common motives. These non-science motives drive the young-Earthers, creation scientists, and intelligent design theorists to push their world view in spite of the fact that such ideas have as much basis in science as 2 + 2 = 6 has in mathematics.
Barred by law from directly inserting their non-science ideas into public school science classes, these non-scientists’ latest gambit is a plea to teach the controversy. Exposing students to differing viewpoints and inspiring critical thought is a good thing in many cases. This, however, isn’t one of them.
The critical difference is that, as far as science is concerned, there is no controversy. The controversy they want to be taught does not exist within the realm of science. It is completely manufactured by non-scientists. Teaching this made-up controversy would undermine the quality of science education just like teaching 2 + 2 = 6 as an alternative theory would undermine the teaching of mathematics.
It serves the anti-science agenda to manufacture controversy and sell it to the public. Official-sounding, authoritatively-named organizations push the agenda upon a public who likely won’t understand the difference between The Discovery Institute (the umbrella organization for the creationist Center for Science and Culture) and the National Science Foundation.
It is an effective strategy: naming organizations to create the illusion of unbiased scientific objectivity while covering the true agenda of the group. This practice has exploded into the field of education reform; where it reaches unparalleled absurdity.
The expansion of ironic-to-the-point-of-self-parody organizational names has even spawned a parody: Last Stand 4 Children First. Its a joke, of course; but the fact that its hard to tell the difference between pundit and parody is hardly a laughing matter.
Take a look at a few real organizations: The Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability. The National Council on Teacher Quality. The Center for Education Data and Research. The Center on Education Policy. The Center on Reinventing Public Education.
And, of course, Students First.
What do these numerous altruistic-sounding organizations have in common?
Besides their short and intertwined list of financial supporters; each to some degree promotes the lie that public education is an abysmal failure. The fix, accordingly, is found only in the policies touted by these non-educator education experts.
That’s right: non-educator education experts. Just like the non-scientists who insist they know more about science than professional scientists do, these non-educators insist they have the solutions to the fictitious education crisis they have fabricated for us.
And just like the creation scientists; these groups fabricate science to promote their agenda. Look closely at the published work arising from the aforementioned groups. How many publications bear the title of working paper?
the working paper is the non-educator, non-scientists way of making their non-peer-reviewed, conclusion-is-step-one style of work seem credible. They have research to support larger class sizes; inexperienced, minimally-trained, low-paid, non-union teachers; pay-for-test-scores; and test-score-based mass firings as successful education practices.
At the same time, their research asserts that student poverty is irrelevant to academic success. Teacher education and experience – also irrelevant. Higher teacher’s salaries – irrelevant. Overall public education funding – irrelevant.
Time and time again, these so-called working papers support the corporate ed-reform agenda when no legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific study ever has. As far as real science and real professional educators are concerned, there is no controversy.
Real science supports what real teachers have said all along: Class size matters. Teacher education and experience matter. Teachers’ salaries matter. Unions matter. Funding matters. High-stakes test scores and all that comes with them – beyond irrelevant and actually harmful.
But the general public usually won’t know the difference, and easily buys the manufactured controversy. The controversy then sells newspapers, weekly news magazines, and wins airtime on Oprah and NBC’s Education Nation.
The manufactured controversy can even garner one-time speakers fees in excess of what most public school teachers earn in a year.
Michelle Rhee isn’t above dickering with her standard $50,000 speaker fee. She has been known to knock off a few thousand dollars for the greater good. Provided, of course, that those who wish to be graced with her presence still fly her first class, lavish her with a VIP hotel suite, a chauffeured Town Car, and pay all her incidentals.
But with a corporate name like Students First, it must be about the kids.