2024 Annual International Conference
NARST 2024 Conference Theme: Science Education for the Rest of Us
by Jomo W. Mutegi
William Lutz, in his book Doublespeak, describes the various ways that governments and corporations present alternative truths and misrepresent reality. In one of his lectures on the book, Lutz used sugar labeling as an example of doublespeak. After the lecture an audience member explained that he had been diagnosed with diabetes some years prior. The audience member further explained that he and his wife were religious about reading food labels and avoiding food products with added sugar. He then grew solemn as he thanked Lutz and admitted that, “I just learned today that for years I’ve been eating ‘sugar-free’ products that actually contain sugar.”
This audience member is not alone. A 2017 study in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease found that many consumers (anywhere from 25-50%) have difficulty understanding and making decisions based on nutrition labels. Neither is this audience member alone in his struggle against diabetes. In 2012, the CDC estimated that one in every 7 to 8 adults had Type II Diabetes. And this number is growing rapidly. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of people with diabetes tripled.
Diabetes is not the only threat. Lead tainted water, adulterated food, perfluoroalkyl substances, addictive devices, corporate and governmental disinformation, and adverse cultural agendas are among hundreds of threats that accompany STEM advances. Although children spend most of their waking hours in school, studies on public understanding of science consistently show that they are not becoming adults who are able to recognize, understand and successfully navigate these threats. While the threats that result from STEM advances are not caused by STEM educators (and those with a vested interest in STEM education), we may unknowingly be complicit in maintaining them.
One of our biggest challenges may be our longstanding effort to use K-12 science education as a space for producing more scientists. The goal of producing more scientists has been explicitly articulated in every major reform movement from Sputnik to Science for All Americans, to the National Science Education Standards, to the Next Generation Science Standards.
The effort to produce more scientists would not be a problem except that the percentage of scientists is very small. In its Science Report, Towards 2030, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that there are 7.8 million full-time science researchers worldwide. While this number may seem large it represents only 0.1% of the world’s population. So we are essentially teaching a version of science to all children that amounts to career preparation for 0.1% of the world. At the same time, the rest of us (99.9%) are not gaining an understanding of science that would enable us to enrich our lives.
The conference theme, Science Education for the Rest of Us, is intended to foreground the purpose of science education, and to draw our collective attention to the many socio-scientific issues that are increasingly important in modern society but have yet to find a place in the standard K-12 curriculum. There is no better place to engage in this exciting work than with colleagues at the 2024 NARST Annual Conference.
We welcome your contributions and look forward to seeing you in Denver!
1550 Court Pl
Denver, Colorado USA 80202