Earth

Refund!

In looking over ten years of Facebook posts, I come across the one that was the most emotional for me to write and the one that still brings me the greatest sadness.

September 21, 2016

As a high school student in America in the 90s, I was required, compelled, forced to study subjects such as Math, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Yes, I was interested in these subjects, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter: if I had been perpetually truant, I could have found myself in juvenile court and my parents could have been subject to fines and legal charges. I spent countless hours of my youth attending required classes, doing homework, and studying for tests in the aforementioned subjects. I was graded and ranked based on my performance, and my success in getting into college was affected by those marks on my transcript. My future depended, in part, on how well I understood basic science. The overwhelming consensus of the scientific community – those people who discovered all that stuff in my science textbooks – is that anthropogenic climate change is a grave threat to humanity. One of the 2016 presidential candidates believes that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese. If that person is elected president, I will respectfully ask American society for a refund for all that time I was made to spend in science class in my childhood. What was the point? Do we as a nation really not believe the things we force our children to study, the things we give them homework and tests on, the things we grade and judge them on, the things we tell them they must understand if they are to succeed? Political allegiances and other matters aside, are we really willing to elect – to even contemplate electing – a leader who does not believe the basic science on which our future depends?

I wrote the post because I felt betrayed, and two years later the feeling of betrayal has only deepened. The post was ostensibly about the 2016 election but really it was about the way our society demands that children become literate in science while at the same time electing leaders who ignore, misinterpret, or brazenly contradict science when it matters the most. This situation existed well before 2016, of course, but as a young person growing up in the 1980s and 1990s I had faith in the system. I expected that the system that was forcing me to do a homework assignment on Boyle’s gas law instead of riding my bike after school was a system that would protect me by applying Boyle’s gas law when it needed to be applied, and ditto for the science that has come since Boyle. I expected that the system that was demanding my time and energy as a student would repay me by defending my future. It would do that by cultivating and practicing the very knowledge it claimed to want to transmit to me. I never imagined that the whole thing could be a ruse, all of those standardized tests, bearing their official titles and addresses:

NEW YORK STATE REGENTS EXAM
The University Of The State Of New York
THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT
Office of State Assessment
Albany, NY 12234

Those test booklets with their pages and pages of questions and multiple choice bubbles, it all seemed so serious and so official, and yet it seems to have been a kind of joke, given that the system doesn’t respect what it tested and graded us on, consuming so many hours and days and years of our youth.

I don’t like saying that I feel betrayed because, of course, my own personal feelings are insignificant in comparison to the threat we face as a civilization. If negative emotions are rarely productive, I feel I should find a positive way of looking at all this and I should focus on the way forward. But right now I need to scream.

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