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In West Virginia Education, Choosing To Live In The Dark


David Lillard, Editor/Publisher Dominic Valentine, Contributing Editor Amy Mathews Amos, Contributing Editor Michael Chalmers, Contributing Editor Tara Sanders Lowe, Director of Advertising Leslie Davisson, Advertising Sales Aundrea Humphreys, Art Director Hali Taylor, Proofreader

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Shepherdstown, WV 25443

It’s long been a source of pride in West Virginia that the energy we produce keeps the lights on everywhere. And yet our state’s education leaders appear content to have us live in the dark, illustrated by the West Virginia Board of Edu- cation caving on new science education standards. Thanks to a couple of climate-change deniers on the board, the new science standards will not so much teach children about sci- ence as much as how to mount an argument against it. On the surface, the changes to new state guidelines are stronger now than they were before. Students will now learn about the evidence for human- driven climate change. That’s a good thing. In two decades of peer-reviewed scientifi c papers published on global warming and global climate—some 4,000 papers by more than 10,000 sci- entists—more than 97 percent determined that humans are contributing to a global rise in temperatures. The Intergovernmental Pan- el on Climate Change, an inter- national body of the world’s climate scientists, says there is a more than 95 percent cer- tainty that humans are contrib- uting to climate change. That’s roughly the same number that, say, for example, the theory of gravity holds water. It’s just a theory, after all. Imagine a 95 percent chance that your fa- vorite number would win the lottery tonight—you’d prob- ably play it.

And yet, among the pub-

lic there remains doubt about climate change. This doubt is sown by people with political agendas—just as Big Tobacco spent millions of dollars to cre- ate doubt that cigarette smok- ing causes cancer and heart disease.

That’s what’s so troubling about the new standards for West Virginia. The original draft, approved by a review panel

that included people

from all backgrounds—includ- ing energy—went with the sci- ence. Then a couple of members of the State Board of Education objected. The reason: “West Virginia coal in particular has been taking on unfair negativ- ity from certain groups,” board member Tom Campbell told the Charleston Gazette. He said the coal industry provides much money to the state’s education system. “I would prefer that the outlook should be ‘How do we mine it more safely and burn it more cleanly?’” He says the standards were

modifi ed to focus the study of climate science on critical thinking language skills—also, a good thing, if all the science curricula were held to the same standard. Who could argue against teaching children how to examine two or more sides of an argument? But these chang- es relate solely to the study of climate change—to stir doubt among children where there is no doubt among climate scien- tists.

Another board member, Wade Linger, is quoted as say- ing: “If you have that as a stan-

dard, then that presupposes that global temperatures have risen over the past century, and, of course, there’s debate about that.” Memo to Linger. There is no debate about that. Zero. Zilch. None. There is no disagreement among scientists on this—at all. Models vary on the extent and consequences for the future, but not on the rise in average global tempera- tures. So why would Linger say this? To sow doubt, of course. Or because he is too lazy to read—which makes one won- der why he was appointed to the Board of Ed. What’s most troubling is not

that the changes involve cli- mate change—the science of which is settled. It’s that the narrow economic interests of an industry’s bottom line can infl uence how science is taught in public schools. And that the decision to do so comes not from scientists or science edu- cators, but from political ap- pointees with a political agen- da that is, by their own admis- sion—by their own words—not based on science or on educa- tion. If the state’s school board

wanted to ensure that coal economics was taught in our schools, then by all means teach it in an economics class. Oh, and if you’re thin-skinned about the West Virginia jokes from late-night talk show hosts, you’d better go to bed early. They’ll have a fi eld day with this one.

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