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Sustainability in Science Education? How the Next Generation Science Standards Approach Sustainability, and Why It Matters


"In this essay, we explore how sustainability is embodied in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), analyzing how the NGSS explicitly define and implicitly characterize sustainability. We identify three themes (universalism, scientism, and technocentrism) that are common in scientific discourse around sustainability and show how they appear in the NGSS. Taken together, these themes evoke a technology-centered perspective called ecological modernization that defines sustainability as a set of global problems affecting all humans equally and solvable through the application of science and technology. We argue that students who are taught to think about sustainability from this perspective will be less able to see its ethical and political dimensions and less prepared for the political realities of a pluralist, democratic society that must balance the needs of multiple groups and integrate science with other sources of knowledge to develop contextualized responses to sustainability challenges. One compelling alternative is a systematic collaboration between science educators and social studies educators, in which the complementary pedagogical strengths of both fields are combined to provide realistic and powerful preparation for future sustainability challenges."