We all know what being ignored means.
And we all know what being attacked means.
While they seem on opposite ends of the spectrum,
there are cases when being ignored is the same as being attacked.
In this case, it is the science of geology.
Geology is under attack by being ignored, incredibly,
in Texas, where geology has yielded bounty for the state and world;
and in California, where geology can become a life-and-death matter.
The attack comes from the education boards of the
states, which dictate curriculums and high school graduation requirements.
And in Texas professional geologists with an assist
from the American Geological Institute, already are fighting back,
28 distinguished geoscientists — 11 of whom are AAPG members —
are testifying at a January hearing in Austin about the importance
of the teaching of earth science to student. And, indications are
that this group's efforts are having a positive effect and have
gotten the attention of the Texas State Board of Education.
The AGI has also lead an earlier letter-writing campaign
focused on the Board of Education, which has mustered a number of
responses (October 2001 EXPLORER).
But why the attack?
Basically, observers say, both the Texas and California
stories are the same — it's because well-meaning reforms have narrowed
the focus on the sciences.
In Texas new graduation requirements call for students
to take only biology and at least an integrated science course in
physics and chemistry. Unless the requirements are expanded or changed,
at best earth science will be shuffled to an elective non-core science
credit course status.
The state's new curriculum, adopted in 1998, eliminated
focused study of earth science in third, fifth and eighth grades
as part of a move toward broader "integrated science" classes that
touch on each field of science in every grade. The Texas Assessment
of Knowledge and Skills Test, which goes into effect next year,
also replaces the eighth grade test with a fifth-grade test.
The change was made to ease the load on eighth-graders,
who will take three other tests in the new regimen.
Also, a rule that allowed high school students to
take earth science to fulfill science requirements was changed to
make earth science only an elective, rather than a core science
credit course. Instead, the requirements are biology, chemistry,
physics and integrated science.
However, Chris Castillo-Comer, director of science
in the Texas Education Agency Division of Curriculum and Professional
Development, said downgrading earth science has devalued the course
in the minds of the students, since it cannot be counted toward
science graduation and not included in the high exit science test.
Consequently, geology ranks with physical education and home economics
Castillo-Comer, a former earth sciences teacher,
said less than a quarter of Texas high schools even offer an elective
in geology, meteorology and oceanography course.
AAPG members Stan Pittman and David Dunn, both of
Dallas, and Edward Roy, of Trinity University, are coordinating
the efforts with the Texas Board's Committee on Education.
Following the January testimony, Pittman, Dunn and
Roy scheduled a meeting with the Texas Education comissioner to
formulate plans to establish a task force made up of members of
the Texas Education Agency, which is the implementation arm of the
Texas Board of Education,and members of the delegation of geoscientists
who made their presentation on Jan. 10.
The task force will be charged with finding ways
to put geoscience back into the Texas high school curriculum.
Witnesses at the January hearing in Austin included
- Past AAPG presidents James A. Gibbs, Dallas, and A.T. "Toby"
Carleton, Midland, Texas.
- James Emme of Anadarko Petroleum, Houston.
- Astronaut James F. Reilly II, Houston.
- Robert Gregory of Southern Methodist University, Dallas.
- Marsha Bourque of Conoco, Houston.
- John Wickham of the University of Texas at Arlington.
- William Stephens Jr. of Gunn Oil, Wichita Falls.
- Paul Strunk of American Shoreline, Corpus Christi.
- Edward C. Roy of Trinity University, San Antonio.
- A.R. Green of ExxonMobil, Houston.
- Marcus Milling, AGI executive director, who gave testimony
for past AAPG president Michel T. Halbouty.
AGI's education director Michael J. Smith noted that
the National Science Education Standards and the Benchmarks for
Science Literacy "bring earth science into parity with the study
of biology, chemistry and physics at the high school level."
He said that in 37 states, students can enroll in
an earth science course which counts toward science credit required
for high school graduation, and that of the 43 states that have
high science tests 32 of them include or are planning to include
earth science content on high school exit exams and assessments.
Gibbs told the board that "earth science courses
instill interest and comprehension in the scientific method and
lead students onward into study of the 'pure' sciences: chemistry,
physics and more advanced mathematics," because they can see and
experience "real world" applications of their studies in their environment
Astronaut Reilly agreed, saying "an advantage to
many students, myself among them, is that earth sciences are not
in the abstract."
Conoco geologist Bourque noted the irony that her
native New York state includes earth science as a core science credit
course, but her own child "who attends high school in the shadow
of the west Houston petroleum center, does not have a similar opportunity."
Pittman noted that the issue will be ongoing. Watch
for further developments.