Two recent items in the national news pushed my buttons. Both were outlandish enough to merit the sarcasm and satire they inspired in the late-night talk show hosts.
The first to find its way into the news was a plank in the Texas Republican platform for the party’s national convention. The provision if enacted would prohibit the teaching of higher level thinking skills in the public schools. There has been backtracking with the claim that the words were accidentally included. Whatever the case, the language remains. That we adults might be so fearful that our children might question and engage in critical analysis (yes, even of our most cherished beliefs) only speaks to our insecurities and lack of confidence in ourselves and them. Name one area of our lives that does not work better with the ability to think clearly and critically.
The second news item reported that North Carolina state senators, led by the conservatives, approved a provision which forbids state officials to take into account accelerated sea level rise when developing specifications for coastal infrastructure (like bridges) and housing and commercial development. The impetus for the legislation was a 2010 state-sponsored study by the Coastal Resources Commission’s panel of scientists which included oceanographers, geologists, engineers, and other experts, 13 in all. This unimpeachable body unanimously agreed that the sea along the Atlantic coast was likely to gradually rise between 15 and 55 inches over the span of the next 9 decades. They recommended state officials use a one-meter (39-inch) rise as the benchmark for coastal planning.
The US Geological Survey has for years highlighted the vulnerability of the highly developed Atlantic coast north of Cape Hatteras due to measurably weakening of the Gulf Stream caused by increased melting of Greenland’s ice cap. When the Gulf Stream slows, the sea level rises. Regionally, sea level rise varies. Our Atlantic coast is a “hotspot” with waters rising 3 to 4 times the global rate. Coastal cities and surrounding areas along the east coast will be more vulnerable to flooding as sea level rise adds to the height of storm surges and breaking waves.
North Carolina’s conservative senators were under pressure from an economic development group by the name of NC-20 (a reference to the number of coastal counties). The North Carolina Senate passed legislation that allows consideration only of past historical sea level rise (no more than 8 inches) as they craft future resiliency rules regarding coastal development. The scientists argue that legislation will not change what the sea will do and such thinking will inevitably be costly. It’s a case, I guess, of the inevitable tug-of-war between the short-term profit-driven interests and the sciences which refuse to discount evidence and predictable consequences.
I’m embarrassed to know North Carolina Republican senators mock their own coastal science experts with language like “pseudo scientists” and “made up numbers.” Higher level thinking skills are not behind such language. I’m also embarrassed Texas politicians consider students engaged in critical analysis a threat. How can it be that the venerable Grand Old Party would have our children poorly prepared for this complicated world and would so glibly dismiss those who have dedicated their lives to understanding it?