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NM scientists hold ‘teach-in’ at PED office

FOR THE RECORD: This story has been updated to reflect that David Thomas, a New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology staff scientist and software engineer, said the Earth is “provably” — not “probably” — billions of years old. The word was mistakenly changed during the editing process. The story also has been updated to include a statement from the New Mexico Public Education Department.

SANTA FE – A group of New Mexico scientists delivered a mini-seminar on climate change, evolution, astrophysics and carbon dating at the Public Education Department’s headquarters Friday to protest the state’s proposal to alter a national science curriculum.

The Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education unanimously endorsed the “teach-in,” which drew about 30 people to the lawn outside 300 Don Gaspar Ave.

Board member Steven Carrillo, a former union organizer who proposed the event, said New Mexico has an obligation to teach “real science” so students can get into “real colleges.”

“I think the main reason we are all here is we are concerned about the dumbing down of science standards for the state of New Mexico,” Carrillo said. “This is not fair to our kids.”

The PED has proposed a number of edits to the Next Generation Science Standards, curriculum created by a consortium of 26 states in 2013.

Under the PED’s plan, a reference to Earth’s “4.6 billion-year history” was replaced with “geological history” in the middle school curriculum.

The proposal omits a reference to a “rise in global temperatures” and replaces it with “fluctuations” in temperature.

A reference to “evolution” also has been replaced with “biological diversity.”

On Friday, the scientists stressed that these changes go against well-established knowledge.

“We don’t encourage students to ‘make up their mind for themselves’ in all areas of science – say, to pretend gravity isn’t real – and neither should we neglect to mention that our planet is provably billions of years old,” said David Thomas, a New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology staff scientist and software engineer. “This is a fundamental concept of Earth, space, biological and physical sciences.”

Omitting Earth’s age, Thomas said, would be like teaching English without Shakespeare or Dickens.

Marquisa LaVelle, a retired University of Rhode Island biological anthropology professor, said the evidence for evolution is so strong that it is not a matter of “belief.”

“I don’t have to believe in evolution,” she said. “Do I believe in my iPad?”

LaVelle said she is concerned that the PED’s proposed changes to the Next Generation Science Standards will harm the state’s already poor educational outcomes.

New Mexico is regularly ranked 49th in the nation for education, ahead of Mississippi.

“We may just beat Mississippi as most mediocre,” LaVelle said.

Christopher Ruszkowki, the state’s secretary-designate for public education, criticized participants in the protest for “public posturing” rather than working with the PED on the new standards.

“As a former social studies teacher, no one appreciates civil discourse more than I do,” he said in a statement. “However, today SFPS has chosen a display in front of the cameras instead of picking up the phone and scheduling a meeting with me. The real lesson being taught to our children by this is that public posturing is more important than constructive, face-to-face dialogue.”