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The Pulse of Earth Science: An Advocacy Guide

What You Can Do

Once you’ve decided where to focus your efforts, it’s time to take action. What exactly can you do — and what should you do — to promote Earth science education?

That depends partly on what you wish to accomplish, such as encouraging the state legislature to require Earth science coursework for high school graduates or persuading the local school board to adopt a specific Earth science textbook. But the answer also depends on what strengths, resources, and connections you bring to the task. Consider how your contribution can have the most impact.

GETTING INVOLVED

You can enhance your knowledge, skills, and credibility as an advocate by becoming immersed in the local scene. Learn how your school system works. Help out in the classroom. Volunteer at your child’s school. Show up at events held by decisionmakers. Attend meetings of school leaders, the local PTA, and the district’s school board.

Get to know the players, so that when you voice a concern or complaint, you’re viewed not as a troublemaking outsider but as a legitimate stakeholder and team player. Even if you’re not a parent, you can establish yourself as a community member with real interests in science, education, and youth development.

Then take your involvement to the next level by, say, assuming a leadership office within the local PTA or running for a position on the school board. You’ll be making your involvement, and your status, official. What’s more, you’ll be learning a lot about local politics, how decisions are made, and what it takes to turn priorities into practice.

 

COALITION BUILDING

You’re not alone. No doubt, many people share your priorities. You stand a better chance of making your voices heard if you all speak in unison on behalf of academic excellence in Earth science.

Build a coalition of like-minded individuals and explore ways of collaborating on specific activities, such as writing joint letters to policymakers or staging events to raise public awareness. Where can you find such individuals? Talk with local figures such as science teachers, science curriculum supervisors, interested parents, employers in related industries, representatives from local geological societies, and college science department heads who are likely to share your priorities.

Invite a diverse array of stakeholders to join your effort. A coalition advancing priorities shared by all of the people listed above, for example, is more likely to influence an education leader than a coalition made up exclusively of Earth science teachers.

If you’re addressing an educational issue at the state level, contact your state geologist. Virtually every state maintains a geological survey, and these geologists often are strong advocates for Earth science concerns throughout the state. For a listing of all state geologists, see the Association of American State Geologists website. Click on your state for a link to your state geologist.

In addition, investigate the national organizations below, many of which engage in government affairs and education decisionmaking at the national, regional, state, and local levels:

Whether or not they become formal members of your coalition, national organizations such as the ones above can serve as valuable partners. Each of these groups has a stake in the quality of Earth science education. As you engage in coalition-building and other strategies, look to these organizations for statistical information, networking resources, advocacy guidance, and technical support.

 

LETTERS & E-MAILS

What is one of the first things people say they’re going to do when they become excited about an issue? Write a letter! That’s because a personal letter to an elected official or other decisionmaker is perhaps the most common, and effective, means of getting across a particular viewpoint on an issue. Standardized letters and e-mails, though less compelling, also can make an impression.

Be clear, concise, and positive. Rather than starting off with requests, emphasize that you are offering to help the policymaker serve the community. Communicate who you are, any relevant credentials you have, and your relationship to the issue in question. Identify the problem and underscore the need to address it. If you must criticize or complain, offer a constructive alternative and explain how the necessary investment would produce a worthwhile return. Discuss the economic impact on the area and the benefit of geoscience education in producing an informed citizenry. Identify the specific bill, proposal, program, activity or issue you are addressing. Conclude with your request for a specific action. Stress the ways your solution would benefit all relevant stakeholders, in keeping with the exemplary work that the policymaker has done for the community in the past. Limit your communication to one page whenever possible.

And don’t forget to urge others in your coalition to write. One letter can easily be ignored. An avalanche of letters cannot.

Sample Letter

March 1, 2008

The Honorable James Lee
Kansas House of Representatives
Kansas State Capitol
300 SW 10th Street
Topeka, KS 66612

Dear Representative Lee:

As the mother of a student at Lexington Middle School and deputy director of mining and minerals at Cannenbaum Energy Corp., I would like to draw your attention to a serious problem in the regulation of education among the public school students of Kansas. The House Education Committee, which you chair, currently is considering a measure, Proposed Bill No. 88614, that would eliminate Earth science as a required course for high school students.

Today’s children are the geoscientists of tomorrow. We rely on geologists, hydrologists, meteorologists and other geoscientists to do many of our society’s most important jobs:

  • Locate adequate supplies of natural resources, such as groundwater, petroleum and metals.
  • Conserve soils, maintain agricultural productivity, and ensure responsible land use.
  • Protect and develop natural resources in ways that safeguard the environment.
  • Guide effective use of energy and mineral resources.
  • Preserve natural wonders and vital ecosystems.
  • Promote effective waste management and pollution remediation.
  • Reduce human suffering and property loss from natural hazards.
  • Understand climate patterns, maintain the quality of our water supplies, and predict the impact of human activities on natural environments.

It has perhaps never been more important for students to master the core knowledge and skills of Earth science. The federal No Child Left Behind law, which until recently dealt only with reading and math assessment, has mandated that states begin administering exams in the 2007-08 school year to gauge student achievement in science. At a time when climate change, energy consumption, and natural hazards rank among the public’s top concerns, young people must gain a basic understanding of the geosciences to become informed, responsible members of their communities.

In my work for Cannenbaum Energy Corp., I see firsthand the value of a sound education in Earth science. But when I look at proposed legislation for Kansas schools, I worry that this value is being lost, at considerable cost to our children and our state. Because I know of your past support for strong public schools, I urge you to uphold the current requirement for all Kansas students in high school to take at least one Earth science course. Thank you for your help on this issue. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Monica Romanelli
76 Craft Avenue
Concordia, KS 66901

 

PHONE CALLS

Reserve phone calls for voicing concerns about pressing issues that need immediate attention, such as an important measure that the state board of education or the general assembly is scheduled to vote on in the coming week. If you show good judgment in “picking your battles” here, the fact that you made the effort to dial the relevant education leader will send a powerful signal about the priority you place on this issue.

Don’t expect to reach a state policymaker, or even a local school board member or district superintendent, directly. Chances are, that person is busy doing what he or she was put in office to do. But don’t be discouraged. The aide, assistant, or receptionist who answers your call is likely a trusted member of the support staff who can become a credible carrier of your message. Moreover, because the staffer probably has been involved in crafting the education policy or program at hand, this individual might understand the issue as well as or better than the education leader you were trying to reach.

Once you get a chance to speak your piece, observe the same guidelines you would in writing a letter or e-mail (above). Be courteous, clear, and concise. While it isn’t necessary to script a speech, you might find it helpful to jot down some notes or talking points beforehand. This will enable you to make sure that you say everything you want to say, the way you want to say it. And, as with letter writing, encourage others to join you in placing phone calls when the occasion calls for such intervention.

 

DISTRICT OFFICE & STATEHOUSE VISITS

When we say “district office” here, we mean the district office of a state lawmaker, not the local school district’s central office. Your state legislator probably maintains an office in his or her district. If you’re nervous about meeting with your legislator, schedule a meeting with district office staff to introduce yourself and discuss your concerns. Or, if you like, schedule a meeting with the legislator. Decide ahead of time whether you want to bring along one or two fellow advocates who could help make your case, and mention this when setting up the meeting. Shoot for a convenient time, such as on a weekend or during a legislative recess, and ask for no more than 30 minutes.

As with a letter or a phone call, organize your thoughts beforehand. Be prepared to make your points forcefully but politely. If the lawmaker doesn’t agree with your stance, it’s usually best to “agree to disagree” and move on. Have on hand an information brief or fact sheet that you can leave with the lawmaker. The next day, follow up with a note thanking the legislator for his or her time and attention.

A statehouse visit might be warranted to address an important piece of state legislation having an impact on Earth science. If so, don’t expect that you can simply walk into a legislator’s office in the state capitol and chat. Go through appropriate channels to request a meeting of about 15 minutes. Understand that your state senator or representative may be busy casting votes or participating in committee meetings. Accept that you may only be able to meet with one of the lawmaker’s legislative aides — not so bad, considering that these are the staff members who customarily draft measures.

You may also try this approach with a member of your state board of education, although it may be less effective. Often appointees rather than elected officials, these individuals may not feel that they have the same relationships with, or obligations to, local constituents that legislators do.

In any event, be prepared to make the most of this high-level meeting opportunity. Arrive ready to discuss the issue, make a compelling case for your proposal, consider the possibility of compromise, and conclude the meeting in a spirit of genuine cooperation and appreciation.

 

SCHOOL VISITS

If you’re hoping to influence an education leader who routinely spends little or no time in a school, you might want to propose a different sort of visit. Rather than you going to visit a policymaker on his or her turf, invite that person to visit a neighborhood school. In this setting, the education leader can see firsthand the impact of policy decisions on real people.

Are you proposing adoption of a particular Earth science curriculum? Show a policymaker a class successfully using those textbooks. Are you proposing more rigorous qualification requirements for instructors of Earth science classes? Show an education leader an Earth science class taught by an instructor certified specifically in this discipline (as opposed to a teacher with no previous coursework in Earth science). Are you proposing increased coverage of Earth science in state assessments? Show a decisionmaker a class that is conducting a wonderful geoscience project or hearing a guest speaker from a regional geoscience industry — and emphasize how important it is to signal the importance of Earth science through state assessment.

Many education leaders, and especially elected officials, appreciate such opportunities to interact with constituents and community members. Also, a school visit can enable them to witness classroom realities that can’t be conveyed through letters, phone calls, or meetings elsewhere.

Just be sure to make all the proper arrangements with school administrators and teachers beforehand. Identify the teacher, the class, and the activity that you want to spotlight. Display Earth science education at its finest. Plan for guided discussion, such as a question-and-answer period. If time permits, share breakfast or lunch in the school cafeteria or at a nearby restaurant. And, as in other meeting opportunities, offer an information brief at the end of the visit and send a note of thanks afterward.

Earth Science Week

When is the best time to tell policymakers about the importance of geoscience education? If you want to show off geoscience education in action, there may be no better time than Earth Science Week, a national celebration held during the second full week of October each year since 1998.

AGI annually organizes this public-awareness campaign to encourage better understanding of the geosciences and stewardship of the planet. During Earth Science Week, millions of people in all 50 states sample groundwater, monitor weather, tour quarries, explore caves, prepare contest projects, visit museums and science centers, and learn about geoscience in public school classrooms.

Earth Science Week is the perfect time to invite decisionmakers to visit local schools, where they can view or participate in compelling geoscience activities. Or you may wish to document students’ learning experiences — in writing or on video (be sure to obtain signed releases) — so you can share them later with policymakers. You can learn more about Earth Science Week, including recommendations for outreach and promotion, online.

Visit the Earth Science Week website to find out about ways to participate, events and organizations in your community, the monthly “Earth Science Week Update” electronic newsletter, and how you can receive an Earth Science Week Toolkit. The website offers a planning checklist, tips for fundraising, ideas for events, recommendations for working with the news media, educational activities linked to the national standards, ways to get official recognition, and downloadable logos and images.

Making a Difference

 

 

 

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