Environmental Literacy

The primary alphabet of understanding our environment consists of science and math. The primary language in which this is, and should be communicated in America is English.

The only wildlife theater company in America promoting science to cure “Nature-Deficit Disorder”.

Since 1980 REF’s mission was based on the simple recognition that science and math education in America is deficient.  It is deficient in the amount of teachers qualified to teach the essential skills of an industrial and technological culture. It is deficient in the text books and curricula required to adequately teach science and math to children in grades K-12.  It is becoming more and more deficient in the type of  culture that engenders the knowledge of science and math.  Whereas America was once the leader in the world in these fields, it is now headed towards the bottom of the rung of the technological ladder…see below.  With the added burden of illegal aliens flooding America, whose primary language is not English, any real science and math education faces additional challenges. As Thomas Sowell has pointed out, not only does this immense flood of  illegals inundate the current educational environment with immediate challenges, it also brings a cultural legacy from generations past which did not place much value on higher education.   The obvious direction of America’s ecological and educational health may be easily projected if one simply takes note of Mexico’s landscape where mountains of waste and rubbish are disposed of in many cases, on the side of the road, while the political culture in Mexico is one of the most corrupt anywhere. The metaphor is a simple one. In Denver Public Schools, 65% of high school students drop out, and the turnover of teachers is accelerating. According to a January 2006 Piton Foundation report, only 30 percent of Denver’s Hispanic students and only 44 percent of Denver’s African-American students are graduating from high school.  August, 2008, the newly created Strong American Schools recognizes the obvious, but their solutions are just more platitudes.  August, 2010, even the Secretary of Education admits schools are lying to parents and students about their achievements.  And from Detroit, the quintessential Democratically controlled city, almost 50% of their population is functionally illiterate. After multiple decades of teaching, these are not accidental results.

Simply look at what is going on in the New York school system, in this report from Atlantic Magazine, and you will see what is happening in every similar union controlled educational habitat.  Monocultures, such as any union controlled educational environment, are guaranteed to produce unhealthy minds in the students infected  by the fear of educational competition.  The same monocultures produce unhealthy minds in teachers and administrators as the Atlanta Public Schools  clearly illustrate.

Our  government educational system is littering our cultural environment with its failures, and the monopolists controlling the system just ask for more money to hide the litter.  “When the children start paying union dues, then we’ll start caring about the children.”  This delightful quote from Albert Schanker, once the head of the American Teachers Federation, epitomizes the issue.  Remember, there is no correlation  that more money equals better education, in fact, an inverse relationship exists.  And if you are waiting for your politicians to present well reasoned thought on behalf of science, do not hold your breath. A 2007 Gallup survey of 1,005 adults across the country reveals that 60% favor charter schools.    A dramatic increase in favor of parental choice is evident to anyone, but those who care only for power over your children and the $$ associated with them are deaf and blind. And the extreme form of parental choice, homeschooling, is growing steadily and putting the lie to everything from teacher certification to more dollars equating with a quality education.  Or how about the manner in which the National Education Association handles any challenge to its power, not to promote a better education, but to promote its own welfare?  Worse yet, is  the state of education in our black communities.  The list just goes on and on.

Nature’s paradigm provides a direct effective solution: competition. Dominant long-term monocultures are unhealthy wherever they occur, and the government monopoly on public education is a classic monoculture with no accountability to the user (customer). Minneapolis schools have seen the results of such competition, especially within the black community, where charter schools have provided competitive choices in education with demonstrably improving results…see Katherine Kersten, Minneapolis Star Tribune.  In the 1950’s, Milton Friedman, Noble Prize-winning economist, first proposed a “voucher system” to allow parents  a choice  in educating their children based on results. Teacher’s unions have fought vouchers ever since, however, what is telling us more than their twisted logic in fighting vouchers is that 21.5% of public school teachers send their children to private schools. 05/05/07: The Economist Magazine reports that international studies are showing decisive results that choice/voucher programs are producing positive results for improving scholastic achievement, attendance, graduation rates, and future options.  This improvement by the way also appears within the public schools- amazing what competition does anywhere, click on the Milton Friedman link for lots of facts.  Isn’t it amazing that over 50 years after a method for improving our school system has been proposed, the educrats from government monopoly schools have proposed nothing but, “give us more money and it will be better.” Not only is it not better, it is worse than anyone imagined, and your taxes are paying for this.  Even socialist Sweden has recognized the importance of competition in their schools and vouchers are the rule, not the exception in their school system.

The other tragedy about students interested in science and math, is that they tend to be our best and brightest, yet the public school system is not geared towards this small group, and indeed, many of these children are left behind. REF has seen many very bright children over the years seeking a place where their gifts are recognized and challenges are provided.  Research shows that having these children interact with wildlife and science in a meaningful way,  meets some of their deepest curiosities about how the world works.

Many of our K-12 students are being taught science and math by unqualified teachers.  In September 2000, the National Commission on Math and Science Teaching for the 21st Century noted that 56 percent of high school students taking physical science were being  taught by  “out of field” teachers, i.e., teachers that didn’t major or minor in the subject in college.  In math, this figure was 27%.  In January 2003, the Committee for Economic Development reported on the same topic for middle school students and found even more alarming data: 93% of science students and 70% of math students were taught by “out of field” teachers.  “The process of learning involves interpretation, and the fewer particulars we require in order to arrive at our generalization, the more apt pupils we are in the school of wisdom…and that whatever we know as truth enables us to predict.*”  Predicting the outcome for America’s developing culture by almost anyone taking a little time to honestly gather a few particulars, should sober even the most hysterical optimist.

The National Committee on Excellence in Education in their 1983 study “A Nation at Risk” stated ” if a foreign nation had done to America what our education system is doing to our young people, it would be considered an act of war.”
…and all it takes for this war to succeed, is for good men and women to do nothing…

In ongoing studies by the Human-Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, researchers have discovered tantalizing evidence for a new view of the syndrome. In a 2004 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, the laboratory found that children as young as five showed a significant reduction in ADHD symptoms when they engaged with nature.

In 2003, the American Association for the Advancement of Science rated less than ten percent of middle school math books to be acceptable, and no science books.  The National Commission on Excellence has recommended that public high schools require 3 years of mathematics and 2 of science.  But only 45% of high schools meet that standard with respect to math, and only 24% with respect to science. In 2003, 90% of the top 50 TopCoders ( a highly competitive game for computer nerds) were Americans. In 2006, the figure is 12%, and the US ranks fourth, behind Russia, Poland, and Canada. Furthermore, grade inflation makes any comparative analysis of achievement almost impossible, even at our elite universities.

How can anyone expect a K-12 teacher who has no experience in the field to get a student excited about science or mathematics?  It rarely happens, although non-certified parents as teachers, may actually be better at instructing their children than “accredited” teachers.  The National Research Council reports that only 30% of students who enter a science track in grade 9 are still interested in science as a major when they graduate from high school and enter college.

Environmental literacy requires a basic grasp of science and math to understand the wondrous ecosystem we are part and parcel of.  The Raptor Education Foundation’s programs are designed and delivered by qualified science professionals, and presented using live raptors that never fail to deliver excitement, engender curiosity, and increase the appetite to learn more. No other raptor organization has the experience or professionalism to deliver  a consistent and systematic response to these issues, as you will note when you review their missions and evaluate their staff and curricula. With today’s debate between those trying to impose “Intelligent Design” into science classes,  and those who assert  that ID is simply Creationism in new garb, it is even more imperative to understand what scientific principles actually are.  Science invites continuous testing of its premises, while religion generally invites little but conformity.  “New age” explanations about the world at large further confuse good science education with scientific sounding explanations which cannot survive the light of day.

The simple and straight forward solution to all of this is “Free School Choice.”  To keep the current government/union monopoly in place is to go against all healthy natural principles.  Nature does not tolerate mono-cultures for long.

America is producing far fewer engineers than are other parts of the world, particularly Asia. As of March 27, 2006, the U.S. ranks sixth in the number of people graduating with bachelor’s degrees in engineering.**  Self esteem courses, and “feel good” classes which promote egalitarian “dope” produce fewer and fewer students with critical thinking skills, along with a citizenry incapable of self-reliance in difficult situations. With the binding element of a common shared language (English) being eroded, the cultural cohesion once responsible for America’s rapid scientific advancement is now being undermined. In any ecosystem, a monoculture invites disaster. America’s government education system is a monoculture, and the fastest way to improve its failing health is to introduce competition into the system (diversity) and merit based pay to reward outstanding educators.  The teachers and students at Meadowcliff Elementary School, in Little Rock, Arkansas know the truth behind rewarding meritorious results. Isn’t it time we implemented this process nationwide?

*Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences  **Wall Street Journal

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