On Feb. 13, new Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced several initiatives regarding education that raise the following questions:

1. Should our state be funding initiatives that treat man-made climate change as fact?

2. Do we want high school students in Tennessee to be focused on how to reduce their carbon footprint?

3. Do we really need to start pushing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and computer literacy in kindergarten?

4. Should our state voluntarily follow federal guidelines and partner with private organizations that work from the assumption that females and minorities deserve special attention, rather than treating all of our students equally?

5. Is there any facet of education that has not been affected by political correctness?

The answer to that last question appears to be “no,” and this includes STEM education in Tennessee.

And the answers to the other questions above appear to be “yes,” based on the proposed initiatives by the Lee Administration.                                                 

Lee declared the Future Workforce Initiative (tn.gov) that will increase STEM training in K-12 schools as part of his first-year legislative agenda. He will be requesting $4 million from the legislature for implementation.

This STEM-focused early college and career experiences initiative — or in politician language “investment” — supports the Tennessee Department of Education’s “Tennessee Pathways” Certification process, as well as the STEM School Designation (tsin.org) partnership with groups like Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN) and Code.org.

A big part of that focus will be on computer science. On that topic, Lee stated, “By exposing Tennessee students to computer science in their K-12 careers, we are ensuring our kids have every chance to land a high-quality job.”

In 2010, the Tennessee Department of Education partnered with Battelle to launch the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network. The network uses Regional STEM Innovation Hubs and STEM Designated Schools across Tennessee in an attempt to attract student interest.

Tennessee Pathways was launched last year by Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candace McQueen as part of the “Drive to 55.”

According to the state website (tn.gov), the Tennessee Pathways Certification recognizes high schools that have developed clear and guided pathways for their students that are built upon partnerships among K-12, post-secondary education and employers.

It is noteworthy that Battelle recently completed a “carbon storage” project (batelle.org).

One can’t help but wonder if Battelle’s interest in carbon storage has anything to do with the network’s emphasis on “climate change” and encouraging students in Tennessee to reduce their carbon footprint?

Or maybe they are they just following the Tennessee Academic Standards for Science Connection (“Humans Impact Climate by Way of the Carbon Cycle” at tvastem.com).

These ready-made STEM project-based learning modules focused on electricity and energy were created in partnership with the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) and TSIN.

These PBLs (Problem Based Learning) were created by teachers, for teachers, in line and with the latest state standards (tsin.org/energy-pbl-module).

While there is certainly nothing wrong per se with teaching our kids computer science or STEM, that can and should be done without perpetuating the man-made climate change mantra that is the basis for AOC-level (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) insanity such as the “Green New Deal!”

Another issue of concern is the “kindergarten to jobs” theme found on the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network site (tsin.org/mision-and-vision), especially since the new federal STEM five-year strategic plan released Dec. 4 also references K-12 responsibilities and similar language (whitehouse.gov).

I recently contacted the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network interim director and asked if our state STEM program was federally funded. I was told that it was state-funded, but there were some federal grants available.

I also asked if Tennessee intended to follow the federal STEM Education Strategic Plan and was told yes, and that the intention was to merge the state plan with the federal as well as with another from the U.S. State Department.

I have yet to find a strategic plan on the State Department site, but what I found in the federal plan is bad enough. The number of federal agencies involved in this plan should be of concern to everyone!

The following excerpts are just some examples from the introduction and the executive summary that show the federal government’s intent to be heavily involved in STEM and how they intend to use grants to further their objectives:

• Although pre K-12 education in the United States is primarily a state, local and tribal responsibility, the federal government plays an important role in fostering educational excellence, including supporting and disseminating the latest discoveries on what works in teaching and learning and facilitating equal access.

• Foster STEM Ecosystems that Unite Communities — STEM ecosystems engage educators and individuals within and outside a formal educational setting and include, among others, families; school districts; state, local and tribal governments;

The federal government and federal facilities; libraries; museums and science centers; community colleges, technical schools and universities; community groups and clubs; foundations and nonprofits; faith-based organizations; and businesses.

• STEM ecosystems focus on long-term, shared, sustainable and flexible STEM missions that bridge, integrate and strengthen the learning opportunities offered by organizations across sectors, compared with isolated, independent entities.

Ecosystem partners are not bound by geographic boundaries and can broadly involve individuals and organizations in both physical and virtual engagement to create STEM communities that expand from local to global.

• Every stakeholder addressed in this document would be a natural contributor to a STEM ecosystem.

Elected officials, school and college administrators, nonprofit directors, faith leaders and business executives are often ideally situated to organize and foster new ecosystems.

In- and out-of-school educators communicating with employers and families through ecosystems can build wrap-around support systems beneficial to learners.

• Increase federal funding opportunities that include STEM ecosystem engagement or development as an award selection criterion.

Of course, as the following additional excerpts illustrate, no federal program would be complete without a focus on diversity and claims of inherent discrimination or bias that have to be addressed:

► The national benefits of a strong STEM foundation cannot be fully realized until all members of society have equitable access to STEM education and there is much broader participation by those historically under-served and under-represented in STEM fields and employment.

A wide body of research has established that organizations that are diverse in terms of gender, race, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, ability, geography, religion, etc., and provide an inclusive environment that values diversity better retain talent, are more engaged and productive, are more innovative and generally are higher performing organizations.

► Presently, high-quality STEM opportunities are not available to all learners. Implicit bias is one factor that inhibits the realization of this goal.

Disparity in the distribution of human, material and financial resources across rural, urban and suburban America also inhibits this goal.

An effect is that blacks or African-Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, and American Indians or Alaska natives are under-represented in STEM fields as compared with their overall participation in the workforce.

► Women in occupations such as computing and engineering are dramatically under-represented, given their participation in the U.S. workforce as a whole.

► One analysis found that many additional inventions and patents, business start-ups, educational innovations and other stunning achievements could be realized if the under-served had more equitable exposure to innovation.

► Even in cases where they are not under-represented in a community, women and minorities face barriers to success in STEM.

If the federal government’s involvement and obsession with diversity isn’t enough, another group the state intends to partner with is Code.org.

Code.org describes itself as “a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools and increasing participation by women and under-represented minorities.”

Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft are just some of the companies involved with Code.org, as well as their major donors.

In fact, all of the Code.org’s major donors are companies known for their extreme Leftist and anti-conservative bias and their support for increased immigration to help keep STEM wages artificially depressed.

Code.org has received $12 million in new funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerburg Initiative and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The majority of these donors are known to espouse liberal views, such as supporting open borders and a global agenda, all of which drives down wages and denies job opportunities for Americans in STEM professions.

Surely in Tennessee, we can develop a STEM program, including computer science, without indoctrinating our kids and pushing a politically correct agenda!

The Tennessee solution should be focused on investing in young Tennesseans, not spending 4 million of our taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate our kids with more Leftist ideology under the guise of STEM.

DAVE VANCE is a member of the Volunteers for Freedom Tea Party. His email address is dvmaf23@aol.com.

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