UPDATE 4.13.17: According to a release from the state House of Representatives, an Ardmore man, identified as James Young, has written the state a check for $50,000 to ensure the Oklahoma State Science and Engineer Fair continues next year.
BY TRUDY STILLWELL WHITE
On March 31, we were thrilled when our seventh grade granddaughter was presented an award at the Oklahoma State Science and Engineering Fair at East Central University in Ada. Our elation was short lived, however, for at the conclusion of the awards ceremony, Dr. Rahmona Thompson, professor of biology and master of ceremonies for the evening, tearfully announced that she was presiding over the last Oklahoma science fair. The Oklahoma Legislature has defunded all science and engineering competitions in the state. In 2018, Oklahoma will be the only state in the union not to hold a state science fair.
Not only has funding for science fairs been cut from next year’s budget, there are no plans for reinstating it in the future. Defunding science fairs in our state sends the unmistakable message that our state legislators devalue science education. It is part and parcel of the systematic deconstruction of support for teaching real science in our public schools. Science fair preparation is an important tool in science education, if for no other reason than that it requires a curriculum that teaches the scientific method, the understanding of which is vital to real scientific literacy. Students who understand the scientific method can become citizens not easily duped by “Fake [Science] News”!
The defunding of Oklahoma’s regional and state science competitions not only denies students the opportunity to receive prestigious recognition, but also the ability to participate in national and international competitions, including a path to attend the Stockholm Nobel Prize Ceremony, an honor which two Oklahoma students received in 2016. It voids thousands of dollars for science fair-based scholarships and cash awards and ignores the fact that science fair honors provide powerful endorsements for students on scholarship and college entrance applications. In terms of its impact on the lives of students, it will be far more costly than the $50,000 which Dr. Thompson cited as the cost of the Oklahoma State and Regional Science and Engineering Fairs.
Corporate sponsorship or underwriting has been mentioned as a possible way to keep the science and engineering competition in place next year. In fact, students from Tulsa’s Cascia Hall Preparatory School have already organized a group, Oklahoma Students Advocating for Statewide Science, to find corporate funding. These students are to be commended, but such a measure, however laudable, is not a permanent substitute for adequate funding. Corporate sponsorship cannot be allowed to take the place of state support for this important component of an effective science curriculum. We should not sell out our public schools to corporate and business interests.
Participation in a science competition is rarely the single most important factor in a student’s educational life, but growing up in a cultural and educational milieu that values ideas, independent thought, and scholarship certainly is. Defunding science competition is merely a reflection of a broader anti-science attitude that has taken hold in our country. It is imperative that we do what we can to stop this dangerous trend. A democracy depends on an educated populace, and science education is particularly significant in an increasingly complex and scientifically advanced world, one for which our children will be woefully underprepared if the current trend to debunk and devalue science education continues.
It is the responsibility of all of us to see to it that our children have access to a high quality publicly supported and funded education. We cannot afford to be apathetic as our state and national governments strip education funding and put in place questionable educational standards. We must stand up, make our voices heard, run for office ourselves, and campaign for candidates who will fight for our children and their futures instead of pandering to special interests and big business.
It’s all sound and fury, however, unless we vote!
– Trudy Stillwell White lives in Oklahoma City