Chemicals are Contaminants too: Teaching Appreciation and Critique of Science in the Era of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

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Science Education

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This article examines the tensions that arose as teachers, scientists, youth, and community organizers worked to develop a curriculum that was responsive to community concerns and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Within the context of urban heavy metal contamination and building on previous critiques of the standards, we identified how the ideological commitments of the NGSS hinder their applicability to community issues. We examine latent ideological commitments in the performance expectations (PEs) and disciplinary core ideas as they relate to historical and present causes and consequences of urban heavy metal contamination. Whereas the scientific enterprise and chemical industry produce harms and benefits, the NGSS focus on benefits and ignore that both harms and benefits of science are unevenly distributed. Given the pressure on teachers to implement the NGSS, this paper presents examples from collaborative curriculum development efforts that meet PEs while pushing students to ask critical questions and engage with their communities to challenge the standards’ alignment with the chemical industry. Ultimately, we argue that the NGSS position teachers as promoters of the status quo of the scientific enterprise and we document possibilities for the role of science teachers in US schools that are more transformative.


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