Wyoming Rejects Science Standards

For oil, coal industry

May 19, 2014
Outside Magazine
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"Big hand" in Wyoming seems to reach for oil rigs, not education.    Getty Images/iStockphoto/Jim Parkin

The founder of Wyoming's conservative political arm, Liberty Group, says the Next Generation Science Standards—adopted thus far by 11 states and the District of Columbia (which means those states acknowledge human climate impact)—are coercive.

Largely defending statewide outputs of companies such as Exxon and Chevron, Susan Gore of the Wyoming Liberty Group (and daughter Gore-Tex founder Wilbert L. Gore) believes government should have nothing to do with public education, and pro-coal-and-oil speak continues to dominate Wyoming's legislative rhetoric in response to the proposed standards. Opposition to the Next Generation Science Standards is "becoming a political litmus test" for this year's governorship, according to Richard Barrans, a science education professor at the University of Wyoming and member of the standards review board.

Wyoming became the first state to reject lessons on the human impact of global warming taught in its classrooms two months ago, despite a unanimous vote of the state's science educators in favor of adopting the standards. In March, lawmakers put an anti-Next-Gen footnote in writing, prohibiting public funds allocated toward achieving the standards. They hold that the standards are based in theory—not fact—and officially reject the Next Generation Science Standards for this perceived lack of validity.

"The majority of us will present evidence," a science facilitator for Wyoming's Goshen County school district told the New York Times. "That's what the scientific method is all about."

With respect to Gore's statement, the standards propose very little "big hand" involvement in how states reach the standards. Individual educators choose which textbooks they use (and, ultimately, how the standards are met), but the big hand in Wyoming seems to reach for fossil fuels, not education.