Teachers and advocates for science are expressing doubt about a Maine plan to revise standards and include lessons on genocide, eugenics, and the Holocaust in middle school science curriculum. They believe that teachers require additional education before tackling these complex and delicate topics.
Although the proposed updates have good intentions, critics argue that they could deviate from traditional scientific principles and potentially harm science education. The proposal acknowledges that science has been used to oppress and mistreat others, but introducing these materials into a middle school curriculum may not be the most effective solution.
The suggestion suggests that science instruction in the state should acknowledge that errors in interpreting fossil evidence have resulted in the incorrect belief of human hierarchies and racial inequity. It also notes that in the past, certain individuals have wrongly utilized the concepts of natural and artificial selection to justify the genocide of certain groups, such as Albinos in Africa or Jews in Europe.
The suggested changes have caught the interest of teacher associations within the state, as well as national groups that promote a deeper comprehension of science. This stands in contrast to conflicts over education in certain conservative states, where there has been criticism surrounding the instruction of climate change, U.S. history, and evolution in recent times.
The Maine Science Teachers Association expressed concerns to the state about the potential negative impact on science education if the proposed content is added to education standards without adequate training for teachers. The updates, specifically designed for middle school students, may also hinder the understanding and retention of fundamental science concepts that students are being introduced to for the first time. Tonya Prentice, president of the Maine Science Teachers Association, shared this viewpoint.
According to Prentice, middle school students are still in the process of developing their critical thinking skills. This level of thinking is significantly higher than what we should expect them to handle, which can be a lot for adults to comprehend.
Some individuals expressed that they believe the state has good intentions in attempting to integrate social history into science education. However, they also agreed that Maine must first ensure that its teachers are capable of effectively incorporating it. Joseph Graves Jr., a biology professor and member of the board of directors for the National Center for Science Education, which represents numerous teachers, stated that the advancements made by scientists in fields like eugenics should be taught in science classes, but it must be done correctly.
Graves Jr. believes that incorporating those things into science class is necessary. He strongly supports the idea, but emphasizes the importance of proper timing and ensuring that those teaching are knowledgeable and have sound pedagogy.
The Maine Department of Education is currently conducting an update as part of their routine review process, which is mandated to occur every five years. The proposed changes will need to be approved by a committee within the Maine Legislature.
The Maine Department of Education received feedback from the public regarding the proposal until mid-November. The next step involves the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee of the Legislature making a decision on the standards. This information was shared by Marcus Mrowka, a representative of the education department.
According to Mrowka, the recent updates to the curriculum are due to new mandates from the Legislature. These requirements include incorporating Native American and African American histories, as well as the history of genocide, such as the Holocaust. Mrowka clarified that these updates do not alter the standards themselves, but rather add a section for further explanation. This is intended to give educators more context and encourage critical thinking.
According to Mrowka, the proposed updates currently available for implementation were created by teachers. The education department extended the opportunity for any science teachers to participate in the revision process. Mrowka stated that a team of 24 science educators from Maine gathered multiple times during the summer to oversee the evaluation of the science standards.
According to Mrowka, the educators collaborated with academics and specialists to incorporate the extra subject areas mandated by the Legislature.
Mrowka stated that the instructors have added a section for further explanation to assist teachers in integrating the necessary additional content mandated by the Legislature. This will also provide more opportunities for promoting critical thinking skills.
Earlier this year, the state requested public feedback on the existing science standards. Educators expressed their views on the significance of pushing students to think critically. Robert Ripley, a sixth grade teacher at Oxford Hills School District, stated that middle school students should be presented with demanding and applicable material that relates to the real world.
Ripley stated that it is our goal for students to become the creators of the future, and in order to achieve that, they must possess the necessary skills to construct a world that is yet to be known.
According to Alison Miller, an associate professor at Bowdoin College and member of the state steering committee for science standards, the changes made to the standards are misguided. Miller believes that the inclusion of topics such as genocide and scientific racism feels forced.
Miller stated that this subject cannot be easily addressed. It requires understanding of context and subtlety. Asking teachers to approach it without this understanding would result in a superficial or incomplete understanding.