Bees and C’s: From Buzz to Practicality

130522 Bee-01To the consternation of scientists, government regulators and giant agribusiness companies, honeybees — responsible for pollinating over 90 commercial crops valued at $200 billion — have been dying by the billions since 2006. Referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), scientists and researchers were hard-pressed to explain this mysterious phenomenon.

But, according to an article written by Daniel Lee Kleinman and Sainath Suryanarayanan, beekeepers across the world began conducting their own methodical investigations and discovered the likely culprit: neonicotinoids, neuroactive insecticides that cause bees to engage in decidedly un-beelike behavior — namely, abandoning their hives.

How was this news greeted? According to the authors, “ . . . some chemical company representatives, scientists and government regulators dismissed or disparaged their findings.” They continue:

The broader message from this case is that practitioners on-the-ground often have knowledge gleaned from careful and systematic observation, and we ignore that understanding at our peril. We assume that formal credentials and prestigious institutional affiliations are the qualities we should look for in assessing the credibility of contributors to public debate. But there are many cases, like that of the beekeepers, where stakeholders with vested interests and on-the-ground knowledge developed understandings that challenged the views of mainstream established experts and that ended up being central to altering policy and practice.

Sound familiar?

Teachers have been forced to accept educational standards and practices created by individuals who have experience and expertise in every area except teaching a room full of 4th graders. While this isn’t an argument for or against the efficacy of the Common Core State Standards, describing it as a top-down initiative created and designed with little input from teachers isn’t a stretch.

Now — with many teachers facing assessments tied to student performance — they must use a curriculum they had little say in developing. Their years of field experience were all but ignored as policymakers and experts made blanket decisions about what does and doesn’t work in education.

This phenomenon is not limited to honeybee deaths and American public education. Whether we abdicate our decision-making to experts or grow frustrated trying to learn the truth on our own, in the end, we just collectively throw up our hands.

But there’s always hope.

As Kleinman and Suryanarayanan eloquently state:

Our point is not to say that commercial beekeepers always know best. Rather, it is to argue for more genuinely participatory research that brings beekeepers’ knowledge and scientists’ knowledge into a creative and egalitarian dialogue toward a fuller understanding of why honey bees are dying.

The Common Core standards are here for the foreseeable future. But if the standards are to be in any way beneficial, the next phase is critical: Policymakers must obtain feedback from stakeholders on the ground. Because, while expertise should be heeded, teachers’ field experience plays an invaluable role in the education process and, in many ways, qualifies them as experts as well. Broadening the conversation — especially when imposing uniform education standards on a country of 300 million people — is critical.

Great discoveries and insights are often spurred and bolstered by observation and field research. It was, after all, a falling apple that inspired Newtonian physics. Which shows that no matter who you are, you never stop using your A, Bee, C’s.

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