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Augmented reality sandbox

From left to right, Emi Ryland, Torry White, Science Teacher Rose Crews, Taylor Bullock and Anahi Varela play in the augmented reality sandbox Jan. 11 at the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind in Gooding. ISDB received a $10,000 grant from the America's Farmers Grow Rural Education program to purchase the sandbox.

On Twitter, the pinned tweet by the popular conservative writer, podcaster and provocateur Ben Shapiro reads, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

It’s true. Facts are callous. But based on comments by some lawmakers at last week’s hearing on updating Idaho’s science standards for the first time since 2001, perhaps we need to simplify Shapiro’s sentiment even further: Facts exist.

The House Education Committee continues to bristle at the new standards, aimed at ensuring Idaho’s children are taught the most up-to-date and accurate science available.

Unfortunately for some Idaho Republicans, that means acknowledging climate change. Late last week, we heard some truly astounding rhetoric from Idaho’s GOP, and that’s saying something these days.

Consider this, from Rep. Scott Syme of Caldwell, who posited, “I don’t care if the students come up with a conclusion that the Earth is flat, as long as it’s their conclusion, not something that’s told to them.”

If that’s the position of our lawmakers, perhaps we really have reached a point in Idaho where facts no longer exist. And if that’s the case, and we’re all free to believe the Earth is flat, what are the schools and teachers even there for? A student who comes up with a flat-world conclusion has not displayed an ounce of critical thinking. On the contrary, the school system has failed that student.

Skepticism is a wonderful thing. We should question figures of authority and declarative sentences of all types. But skepticism devolves into cynicism when we cannot accept basic facts about the world. The world is not flat. Earth is not the center of the universe. And gravity exists.

And, sorry, guys, but so does climate change, according to the overwhelming majority of scientists, peer-reviewed research and anyone who can read temperature graphs.

Rep. Lance Clow of Twin Falls, who sits on the Idaho House Education Committee, showed his skepticism by questioning whether we have reached a tipping point in rising global temperature, or if we’re just at a high point in cyclical, ever-changing temperature patterns.

“Geologic history shows that temperatures have gone up and down before, so that’s one of the challenges that some people have run into,” Clow said. “We know that solar activity, volcanic activity, things like that contribute. The implication of the standards right now is that it’s only human impact that contributes to rising temperatures.”

We should entertain each potential cause of our increasing global temperature, with a focus on the ones we can control. But if a student, lawmaker, or private citizen declares that the real cause of climate change is liberal flatulence, we have an obligation as a society to correct the ridiculous assertion.

Duncan Robb, chief policy adviser for the state Department of Education, said Idaho’s educational science standards are “moving away from asking students to memorize facts,” presumably for critical thinking to take its place.

Sure, rote memorization is a terrible way for students to learn. But so is denying basic facts in favor of a system where every rogue opinion is treated equally. Surely a balance can exist between the two. And if not, our educational system is doomed.

For a state government that’s placing a lot of emphasis on STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math — refusing to accept scientific consensus, or, at the very least, teach our students the best science available, is nothing less than shooting ourselves in the foot and handicapping our children.

Public testimony at the two-day session, which included a Boise State University professor of physics who writes science textbooks, a geologist and an electrical engineer from Hewlett Packard, was 100 percent in favor of the new standards.

For the sake of having an educated, capable workforce emerge from the next generation of Idahoans, the state should update its science curriculum and acknowledge that science, to paraphrase the notion in Shapiro’s tweet, does not care about your feelings or politics. Science is always changing, and new theories debunk the ones of old. But one direction in which science does not move is backward.

And as Sherri Ybarra, superintendent of public instruction, said on Thursday: “If we do not pass today, we are going backwards.”

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