Educators, Scientists Gather on National Mall to March for Science

By Liana Loewus — April 22, 2017 4 min read
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“It’s raining science!” Albert Yu-Min Lin, a research scientist and co-founder of an education technology company, told the thousands of scientists, educators, researchers, and others gathered on the National Mall this morning.

The crowd at the D.C. March for Science was far from deterred by the soggy conditions, with many keeping their humor between downpours. “We’re losing structural integrity,” a young man joked to his friends, referring to the homemade sign that was falling apart in his hands.

Dressed like Ms. Frizzle, the fictional science-loving teacher from The Magic School Bus books, Rachel Davison Humphries (right) stopped to pose for pictures with fellow marchers. When asked why she was attending, Humphries, a former middle school math and science teacher who now works for a nongovernmental organization, was more serious, saying, “We’re a society that needs better support for critical thinking and reasoning skills.”

The Washington event, held on Earth Day, coincided with nearly 400 other satellite marches across the country. (It also coincided with the National Math Festival here, which some marchers said they planned to go to later this afternoon.) Attendees converged near the Washington Monument for a rally this morning featuring, among others, musician and social activist Questlove, Bill Nye (of the popular 90’s television show “Bill Nye the Science Guy”), and former chief U.S. technology officer Megan Smith.

Politics and Science Collide

The atmosphere was overtly political, with many carrying signs bashing President Donald Trump and the Republican party. “More Spine Than the GOP,” said one man’s sign picturing a jellyfish.

“We’re not generally politically active. This is my first march,” said Paul, who works in applied physics research at the University of Maryland and declined to give his last name. “But I’m kind of distressed by the way science is being perceived right now. ... I’m here to give the politicians a message and to educate my kids.”

(Many who attended asked not to have their full names or the organizations they work for printed, citing professional concerns.)

A former high school science teacher, Paul brought both of his children to the march with him.

His daughter, Penelope, a 6th grader, said she likes doing simulations in her science classes at school—for instance, she has built models of tectonic plates. When asked why science is important, she said, “Part of science is keeping the environment safe. I don’t want my kids and grandkids to live in a trashy world.”

Leland Melvin, a former NASA astronaut, spoke at the rally about his childhood science experiences. “When I was in 6th grade my mom gave me an age-inappropriate, non-OSHA-approved chemistry set,” he said, noting he managed to cause some damage with it. “That is what got me hooked on science.” (OSHA refers to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.)

Teachers Travel for the March

Nearly every attendee this reporter spoke to had some connection to science education, or at least a story about how a science educator inspired their work.

Jay West, a biologist by trade who works in toxicology, brought Mary Swihart—the woman who taught him high school
biology 33 years ago—with him to the march. (Both are pictured right.) “I always wanted to be a biologist but Mary really cultivated that. She had a profound influence on me.”

By turn, Swihart brought with her a sign dedicated to her own high school biology teacher and mentor, who is 97 years old and wasn’t able to travel from Iowa for the event.

Of the multitudes of teachers in attendance, some traveled in groups. The National Science Teachers Association brought dozens of educators, many of whom wore festive red capes.

Carla Tracy, a high school biology teacher, came up from Crozet, Va., with a scientist friend on a bus organized through the University of Virginia. Tracy said she asked her school administrators if she could post a notice for her high school students about the bus, but they did not allow it. Instead, she told some individual students who she “knew were receptive” that she would be attending the march.

“I’m really concerned about the direction the country is going in terms of ignoring science and discrediting scientists and coming up with alternative facts and defunding our scientific institutions that we depend on for health and safety,” she said. “I think when we start making up things and not actually speaking the truth, that sets the worst example for students and turns them away from seeking truth and knowledge.”

The march itself took the dense crowd about 12 blocks down the mall, ending near the U.S. Capitol. Marchers could be heard chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, alternative facts have got to go!,” and “What do we want? Government funded science! When do we want it? After peer review!”

For more on the event today, see also:

Images: Liana Loewus for Education Week

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.