Initial Publication Date: April 25, 2017

Campaigning for Effective Geoscience Education Advocacy

DON DUGGAN-HAAS ( is director of teacher programs at the Paleontological Research Institution and Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York, and first vice president and chair of the Advocacy Committee of NAGT. ANNE EGGER ( is the current president of NAGT and an associate professor at Central Washington University.

Science is more politicized now than perhaps at any time in living memory. Many scientists and science educators feel that the scientific enterprise and science education are under attack, especially as "alternative facts" and fake news proliferate, threatening both our democracy and our environment. How do we at NAGT respond appropriately as an organization and as individuals?

NAGT's mission includes advocating for science education and science teachers. As an organization, it will respond to threats to geoscience education and, more proactively, it will support, share, and publicize resources and strategies for effective science education. It encourages its members to do the same.

How do we maximize our advocacy efforts? Effective advocacy, whether driven by individuals or organizations, has at least three significant outcomes:

  1. It connects those engaged in the advocacy efforts, and, hopefully, energizes both the advocates and the broader scientific community, raising morale through building community.
  2. It demonstrates that many Americans care deeply about scientific and educational enterprises.
  3. Less positively, any group's advocacy motivates some to work against the goals of the advocates. This is known as the backfire effect: an outcome that is neither desirable nor possible to fully eliminate, though we can act to reduce its magnitude.

How do we reduce the possibility of a negative impact? Above all, listen with kindness and respect. Everyone wants to be respectfully heard. Listening promotes a real response. Being either set in your own ideas or condescending can cause people to deepen their convictions rather than their understandings. It may be helpful to reflect on changes in your own thinking over time. About what big issues have you changed your mind? What helped or hindered with that change? Facts are still essential — we root our advocacy in the best available science. But we are most effective when we remember that tightly held beliefs are connected to emotions and experiences.

Advocacy involves ethical, practical, and legal considerations as well as concern about how to shape our actions to best support our work and passions. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers follows both the rule and spirit of laws related to political activities. The law limits the extent and type of activities in which we, as an organization, can engage. Advocating for science education and science writ large is central to our mission and thus is fully legal. Indeed, to fail to advocate in this way would be a disservice to our membership and to the public.

On the other hand, NAGT avoids activities that support or oppose (or even appear to support or oppose) specific individuals. We attend to policies and positions, not people. As an organization, participation in rallies or marches that support science or education are wholly appropriate, while participation in protests against people or positions is less desirable.

The rules guiding non-profit organizations are also suggestive of good practices for individuals who are early in their learning about the ins and outs of advocacy. Being a kind listener and focusing more upon policies than people will help build personal understandings of the issues and people involved, leading to more effective lobbying and campaigning should you be drawn to more political actions.

NAGT invites our members to join our organizational efforts to support science teachers and scientists. Listen kindly, then speak respectfully. Show the public and the policymakers that science matters, that good science teaching matters, and that the scientific enterprise must be supported.

For more suggestions on effective advocacy, see:

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