James Inhofe is not a high school science teacher. Good thing.
“Time” editor Jeffrey Kluger described how the Oklahoma legislator took to the floor of the U.S. Senate on Feb. 26, snowball in hand, to quell theories of man-made climate change:
“I ask the chair, you know what this is?” he said. “It’s a snowball, and that’s just from outside here, so it’s very, very cold out, very unseasonable.” Then he tossed the unexpected snowball to the unsuspecting chair and returned to his prepared text with self-satisfied, “Mm-hmm.”
An entertaining ploy, but a disturbing one, considering Inhofe is chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.
“Either he really doesn’t understand that weather isn’t climate, that long-term trends are different from short-term bumps, that what happens at your house or in your town really, truly isn’t what’s happening everywhere else on the planet, or he does know and he’s pretending he doesn’t,” added Kluger. “Either way, it’s hard to argue that he’s the man you’d want as the Senate’s leading voice on climate policy.”
Inhofe would better serve as the poster child for our country’s disappearing skills in critical thinking.
Examples of this sad phenomenon abound, including the status of the Advanced Placement course in U.S. History, taught in high schools across America.
“Under the new (AP History) framework, the emphasis of instruction is on America as a nation of oppressors and exploiters,” said Oklahoma legislator Dan Fisher, who proposed earlier this year that his state’s Board of Education stop funding the AP History course.
The criticism of the course’s reforms first surfaced last summer.
“The changes have come under fire from conservative activists and politicians,” reported U.S. News. “They have accused the authors of the framework of creating a far more negative image of America’s founding. Too much focus is placed on issues like American expansionism and displacement of indigenous peoples over the concept of American exceptionalism, the critics contend.”
Ted Dickson, a high school teacher who helped to develop the new course outline, sees things differently.
“Do you encourage citizenship and patriotism by only talking about what’s great about the U.S.?” he asked. “Or do you encourage citizenship and patriotism by talking about not just the positive aspects of our history but also the parts that are negative and how we as a country strive to overcome those?”
Critical thinking, clearly, can be messy. But consider the potentially perilous results of avoiding it.
As of Mar. 2, a total of 170 measles cases had been reported in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
“What’s sad about this – tragic, really – is that we eliminated measles from the U.S. in the year 2000, thanks to the measles vaccine,” reports “Forbes.”
“Measles may become endemic in the U.S., circulating continually, thanks to the increasing numbers of unvaccinated people. Until now, each outbreak was caused by someone traveling from abroad and bringing measles to us. The anti-vaccine movement has turned this public health victory into defeat.”
Not America’s proudest moment.
“If the rise in uninformed opinion was limited to impenetrable subjects that would be one thing, but the scourge seems to be spreading,” according to a scathing article in the Canadian publication “Maclean’s.” “Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favor of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith.”
How else to explain a proposed Kansas law – originally written as a reaction to an explicit sex-ed poster in a health classroom – to “make it easier to charge and prosecute teachers with distributing harmful material to minors”?
Lawyer David Schauner explained “the bill could be applied incredibly broadly because the legal definition of material includes books, magazines, films, posters and pamphlets.” Such material might include classic literature such “Huckleberry Finn” or scientific works like Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”
“Our society is based on an exchange of ideas,” added Schauner, “and removing the affirmative defense for using these works of literature in a modern curriculum would have a devastating impact on those who teach.”
Unless, of course, you happen to be a science teacher like James Inhofe.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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