Why I march for science

Special Resource: Would you like to organize or join a march? Check out AFT’s guide for teachers.

By Linda R. Johnson

Have you ever seen the look of awe on a child’s face when he or she discovers the joys of wading in a creek for the first time, exploring all the life teeming through the water? What about the whispers of “Wow! Cool!” or the gasps heard as a child sees a laser beam of light through a mist of water, proving that light does indeed travel in a straight line? Teaching science is one of the most rewarding parts of my professional career in education. To see the look of amazement and joy when a child finally discovers what causes natural phenomena like rainbows is worth all the struggles to deliver that lesson!

What struggles, you may ask, could there possibly be in delivering an elementary school science lesson? Unfortunately, students are exposed less and less to science at the elementary level, due to state and local mandates on testing. Science is not tested until the fifth or eighth grade in most states, and thus is often placed on the back burner until then. Can you imagine an elementary school experience without science? I, for one, cannot. Where else do we learn about life cycles in plants and animals, and about explainable phenomena that affect our daily lives? When children are engaged in exploring and learning about all aspects of life, they become better writers, thinkers and problem solvers, enabling them to become successful, productive citizens, the ultimate purpose of public education.

In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, can we afford not to speak out in its defense?

As a student, my most memorable elementary school experiences were our science-based projects exploring and learning about natural phenomena. We wrote about our learning and used mathematical concepts to provide evidence.

But as an elementary school teacher in an urban school district, I have seen science instruction pushed aside over the past 15 years or so due to annual testing (which is tied to teacher evaluations) in English language arts and mathematics. Students are being pulled from science classes for “tutoring,” while ELA and mathematics are taught in isolation, never reaching the application level (the highest level of learning) in most cases. Compounding the problem is a troubling trend in society: to discredit scientific consensus and to restrict scientific discovery.

This is why I am joining the March for Science on April 22, 2017. [NOTE: The 2018 March for Science will be held on April 14, 2018.] It is a celebration of the real ways that science affects each of our lives and a call to respect and encourage research that gives insight into our world.

Nevertheless, the march has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense?

I march because many legislators have lost sight of the purpose of public education — to educate the whole child and create productive, responsible members of society. I march to bring light to the educational injustices currently bestowed upon our children, especially those living in impoverished neighborhoods. I march to make voters aware that we need to bring quality education back to our public schools, free from the burden of testing mandates.

I march for all our children, not just the privileged few, because science connects us to life!

Linda R. Johnson is an intermediate science teacher in Cincinnati Public Schools, the CPS Science Curriculum Council chair, and the Educational Policies chair for the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers executive council.

This blog post is re-published with permission from AFT Voices. Read the original post. To learn more about AFT's Schoolhouse Voices from PreK-12 public educators, visit: https://aftvoices.org/school-house-voices/home. Follow on Twitter @rweingarten or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AFTunion.