Playing school is my daughter’s favorite thing to do, which came in handy earlier this year, when the much-predicted snowstorm rolled in and everyone was moored at home. The kids turned chairs into desks and put a schedule up on the chalkboard wall. There was choice time and gym and music; math games and reading circle and art; our 6-year-old gave a lesson on insects, and the oldest gave one on colonial America. The 4-year-old drew outside the lines. They love playing school because they love school – not every morning, when we need to get them out the door to the bus – but in a deep and profound way. My three girls believe their teachers know and support them and are inspired and challenged by their teachers to think carefully, critically, and creatively about the world around them.
My husband and I will be going to the March for Science in New York City with our three girls on Saturday. The March, which takes place on Earth Day, is a shared celebration of all that science makes possible in our world today and all the discoveries it will bring to our world tomorrow. We’ll join other concerned citizens, alongside scientists, researchers, advocates, and educators, marching in hundreds of cities across the world. We’ll literally be walking the walk to support science, ensure that we match support with funding, and ask for respect for scientific inquiry everywhere. I want my daughters – who are almost 5, 7, and 9 years old – to experience the vitality, the engagement, and the passion of people from all corners of the globe who have risen up in defense of science and science education.
As we march, my greatest hope is that my kids see their science teachers marching with them. As the founder of 100Kin10, a national network committed to giving kids a great STEM education by filling their classrooms with 100,000 excellent STEM teachers, I know how important it is for America’s future that sound science be taught in our classrooms. But just as important, I know from my experience as a parent that teachers’ actions outside the classroom shape the kind of learning their students experience. I hope my daughters see their teachers alongside doctors, engineers, researchers, and other members of the scientific community who are standing up for what they believe.
Where politics can drive people apart, science can unite them.
We’ve already seen criticism of the March for Science, and we’ll likely continue to hear that the scientific community should stay in the lab rather than the public square. Teachers involved in the March may be singled out, as they have in the past, for making a “political statement.”
But this perspective misses the point twice over, both for suggesting that the March for Science is partisan in nature and for implying that teachers have no place in social movements.
The March for Science is a celebration of science, not politics. Where politics can drive people apart, science can unite them. The human race is one marked by curiosity and the joy of discovery. Science, at its deepest level, is human, not ideological.
And far from being the purveyors of colorless facts and figures, teachers have long been involved in social movements that have driven our country forward. One of the most powerful, and seldom remembered, moments of the civil rights movement occurred when nearly every Black teacher in Selma, Alabama, marched from Brown Chapel church to the courthouse to register to vote. Beaten back with billy-clubs wielded by lawmen and driven down the courthouse steps, these teachers marched back to Brown Chapel, where they were greeted in song by their own students and their parents. Before, those children saw their teachers as part of the established order – now, they saw them as heroes. Indeed, teachers have been a part of every American social movement since 1776.
These teachers model courageous citizenship for their students, as I know teachers around the country will do on Saturday. When they see their students’ future imperiled, they stand up to protect their students and, with them, our country and planet.
We send our kids to school to learn more than math and science, history and literature. A great education happens when we couple knowledge with the ability to act on that knowledge. Now, more than ever, sound science tells us to act. The marches that will take place on Saturday are a beautiful and physical representation of that choice to step into the arena and act.
Teachers will be marching in cities and towns around the world to secure a better future for all our children. When they do, they remind us not only of the importance of action today but of the critical need for more science teachers and more scientifically literate students tomorrow. A shortage of STEM teachers in our nation’s schools threatens America’s future prosperity and the professional viability of our kids. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 16 fastest-growing occupations in America require STEM training, and our country will need to fill 1 million more STEM jobs by 2022 than it had in 2012.
We trust teachers to act as role models for our children – to be knowledgeable, wise, analytical, patient, and compassionate. When teachers take action in support of our kids, they model the kind of real-world education our children deserve. They model the kind of engaged citizens I want my girls to grow up to be.
The act of nurturing citizens is a deeply personal and human one. It takes place both inside and outside the classroom. Saturday’s Marches for Science are an occasion for teachers to educate our children outside the classroom, to model citizenship rooted in fact and lived through action. My girls, and all our children, deserve teachers who embody nothing less.
Talia Milgrom-Elcott is the founder and executive director of 100Kin10, a national initiative to recruit and train 100,000 excellent K-12 STEM teachers by 2021.