Thursday, July 2, 2015

We Don’t Pay Them Enough to be Heroes

My daughter is a high school teacher in Oklahoma. She teaches English in one of the better school districts in Tulsa, and has a Masters Degree. This means she gets paid better than high school teachers in many other parts of Oklahoma. But she is still barely able to meet her expenses. We buy many of her groceries for her.

Especially in Oklahoma, public school teachers are paid very poorly. And yet we expect our high school teachers, especially science teachers, to be heroes and heroines.

In many ways, science is under attack. The two major attacks are launched by conservatives against evolution and global warming. (Liberals often attack vaccination and GMOs, but at least in Oklahoma they are silent.) In Oklahoma, high school science teachers are required to cover evolution and global warming (even though they are not worded in this way in the state standards). But they frequently run up against opposition from parents and churches who want their children to not hear about these two topics. If a high school teacher wants to teach about evolution, he or she is protected by state policy. If the superintendent sides with the parents and attempts some action against the teacher, she or he could sue in court and undoubtedly win. Science education groups such as Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, of which I am president, would do whatever necessary to assist them. Of course, superintendents can figure out subtle and devious ways to discredit an inconvenient teacher without actually saying that it is because they teach evolution and/or global warming.

But the teachers are so busy that they will almost certainly cave in to local pressure and avoid these topics. One way teachers do this is by assigning the evolution chapter as textbook reading, then allowing the students to write an essay about whether they agree with it or not.

With such low pay, how can we expect high school science teachers to be heroes and heroines and expend the cost in time and stress necessary to defend science education? One of my former students is a middle school science teacher, but I found her working in the credit union across the street from my house. She worked at the credit union immediately after school each day in order to get sufficient income. And I expect her to bravely defend evolution and global warming?

And new science-based issues arise and suffer a similar fate. In Oklahoma, oil is king. There is clear scientific evidence that fracking is the principal cause of the huge increase in the number and severity of Oklahoma earthquakes since 2010. But can you imagine a high school earth sciences teacher saying this? She or he would have a snowball’s chance in hell of success.

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