Get Out Those Checkbooks: Time to Save Science Education!

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | September 22, 2010 12:52 pm

Update 8:30AM EDT: Now over 15K raised through individual contributions!

Because Texas buys textbooks as a single block, the state has the largest impact on K-12 curricula in the nation. There are two, local races, where every penny goes to work, that have big implications for science education all over the country. The outcome of either contest could tip the balance away from anti-science extremists who seized control of the schoolboard to professional educators with the students’ best interests in mind. Please help if you can.

You can make a single stop contribution to Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau here. More details at Daily Kos. If you are a blogger or science journalist, please spread the word!


Comments (14)

  1. Outstanding. BTW, she’s probably too modest to mention this, but I never would have known about these races if it wasn’t for Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney.

  2. Passing word around now..

  3. Ug, nothing like having to use time and money to ward of a second dark age . . .

  4. Eric the Leaf

    Absolutely true that the textbook adoption process is deeply flawed and politicized and that the situation in Texas is horrific. But it would be a mistake not to see how the science education community itself, embodied by the National Science Education Standards as approved by the National Research Council, has thwarted the development and dissemination of quality textbooks and science programs in public schools. Private schools are so far largely immune from those problems.

  5. The insanity of the USA continues to rear its ugly head. The world runs on science but religoius zealots sometimes have the power due to voter ignorance, apathy or a combination of both. It is no wonder that the USA is in the shape it is in. The people really don’t care but start screaming if things don’t go their way. It is time to blame the electors for not doing their job not the elected. Science is too hard for most students and it is a lot easier to hypnotize them with religious matters let them buy unlimited guns and ammunition than it is to teach them science so why bother.

    Americans should move to Canada where we have free medical coverage and teach science, not well, but we do teach it.

  6. Eric the Leaf

    To continue a thought. It is too easy to get bent out of shape about the influence of fundamentalist religion in public education, specifically surrounding biological evolution. It is another matter for a hardworking journalist to investigate science education “reform;” to find authors, publishers, and educators on the ground who understand the crime perpetrated by the National Research Council and how deeply this has warped science education in the United States. I submit that there is not a working science journalist who understands this problem. Battling the anti-evolutionists is sexy. Really understanding science education in the United States requires another level of commitment and dedication.

  7. The wing nuts’ assault on evolution is well-known. Less well known is the damage they’ve done to environmental science. In 2009, they pushed global warming denial into the curriculum. Last time they considered science textbooks, they rejected one for being to positive on the Endangered Species Act and too negative on deforestation. The big textbook publishers often self censor in order to appease the ideologues on the Texas State Board of Education, and their watered-down textbooks wind up in classrooms across the country.

  8. Eric the Leaf

    And even less well known is how the science standards have screwed things up. Far more damaging than anything the wingnuts can do.

  9. Nullius in Verba

    Feynman’s essay on judging books by their covers is well worth re-reading here.

    The problem with science education goes far deeper than just creationism or global warming catastrophe. If science was being taught properly, it wouldn’t matter if you included statements supporting them, because students would know or quickly identify the flaws and errors in them.

    But they can’t, because educators confuse science with the conclusions of science; and have targets set of so many facts and theories to learn and no time to explain the reasons and process – Wakalixes rather than meaningful explanations. They fall back instead on authority to convince, which is fragile. The result is a public with no deep understanding, who are easily swayed, and who regard science as just another arena of politics, because that is what it has been made.

    The process for procuring schoolbooks has long been corrupt (see Feynman), and now so is our understanding of science. This will not be so easily fixed.

  10. First, I’m totally with Nullius. Relying on textbooks is problematic. While the acquisition of facts is certainly important to learning, learning how to locate, evaluate, and filter information is even more critical. After the comparatively brief period of formal school, learning throughout the rest of our lives is autodidactic in nature. It could easily be argued, then, that learning /how/ to learn is what’s important. It could further be argued that textbooks are not good mediums for this type of training.

    Second, setting aside the problematic nature of relying on textbooks and theories of the purpose of education, it seems unwise to fight against a perverted hegemonic system of education–as the Texas School Board appears to be–by replacing it with another hegemonic system of education that one favors. Doing this is only a temporary victory as the pendulum of public sentiment will eventually swing back undoing what was just done. In my mind it would be better to fundamentally change the underlying system: decouple textbook content from a single school board’s whims. There are a number of ways this could be done: have multiple states strengthen their textbook requirement laws to the extent that the “Texas model applies to everyone” is impossible, create a competing “open source” textbook authoring NGO, etc.

    There are more problems with textbooks than just their content. An issue near and dear to my heart (I mean wallet) is when university instructors create low-quality textbooks that they revise annually and require their students to purchase. Granted this issue affects a different group of people than the Texas issue, but I see these and other issues as systemic flaws in our model. Wouldn’t it be better to donate money to a cause trying to fix the underlying system rather than just throwing money–making yet another high-dollar race–at the existing one?

  11. Eric the Leaf

    Below my comment is a review of the 6th Edition of a physical science textbook written for the 8th/9th grade level. A review of the 7th Edition also exists and the book currently is in its 9th Edition and still every bit as good. If the book is so terrific, which it is, and if does all the things the reviewer claims, which it does, why has it been increasingly difficult for this textbook to pass muster in state school board adoptions? If you can answer this question in full, then you’ve answered the reason why the fights over evolution are small potatoes. The question illustrates one of the key problems with modern secondary school science education in The United States.

  12. Matteo

    “The people really don’t care but start screaming if things don’t go their way. It is time to blame the electors for not doing their job not the elected. Science is too hard for most students and it is a lot easier to hypnotize them with religious matters let them buy unlimited guns and ammunition than it is to teach them science so why bother.”

    Right. It is evident that you have much to teach the world about subtle and careful thinking. Unlike the ignoramuses who are mired in crude stereotypes, yes?


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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