Matt Teeters and the tricky dance of politics and education in Wyoming

Matt Teeters is a state representative in Wyoming who helped lead the charge for the state to officially reject the new Next Generation Science Standards, becoming the first state to officially do so. (It should be noted that the Governor of Wyoming, Matt Mead, is on the same side as Teeters on these issues.) Here’s the essential breakdown, via local press. Let’s start with Teeters:

“[The standards] handle global warming as settled science,” said Rep. Matt Teeters, a Republican from Lingle who was one of the footnote’s authors. “There’s all kind of social implications involved in that that I don’t think would be good for Wyoming.”

Teeters said teaching global warming as fact would wreck Wyoming’s economy, as the state is the nation’s largest energy exporter, and cause other unwanted political ramifications.

(I was dubious about the “largest energy exporter” claim when I first saw all this, but it appears to be mostly true.)

Now here’s the flip side of the issue, via Pete Gosar:

“Over the last few years in Wyoming, we’ve injected politics into education time and again and it has been less than successful,” said Gosar, a member of the state board of education and chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party. “And so here we go again.”

And now we dance!

You see this issue all the time in America (although probably more often in Texas than anywhere else); basically, politicians want to control exactly what the next generation is being taught in line with their own views/beliefs. For the life of me, I can’t understand why it’s a bad thing for American students to be exposed to two sets of beliefs and draw their own conclusions — isn’t that basically what critical thinking is, which is what we seemingly need more of in America? — but apparently it is. You see this issue most tangibly with creationism, but it comes up elsewhere.

In Wyoming the issue seems to be — if the science standards say “our energy exporting is helping to accelerate global warming,” and then kids believe that and shy away from that type of work, could that eventually cripple the economy of Wyoming? (That’s a broad, umbrella-level view of the arguments.) I actually think family means more to people than education per se, so if your family has been in coal for 50 years, you might go into coal as well, national science standards be damned. But I could be wrong on that front.

A lot of the current discussions around education curriculum remind me of Eli Pariser and the “algorithm bubble,” basically talking about how it’s really hard to be exposed to information outside of your belief set — since everything is tailored via preference. Are politics ultimately going to do that to the notion of classroom learning? That would be sad.

Ted Bauer