I Write Letters: To DOE Secretary Steven Chu

Here is the text of the letter that I wrote to DOE Secretary Steven Chu.  He really only takes emails, so I emailed it to him.  Anyone of like-mind, can do so at:  Feel Free to rip-off whatever bits of this letter you like

To Honorable Secretary Steven Chu;

For the past two summers, I have had the good fortune to be a fellow in the Department of Energy’s Academy for Creating Teacher Scientists (DOE-ACTS) program.   Since 2009, I have spent my summer vacation conducting research at Brookhaven National Laboratory for six weeks each summer. I have a Bachelor’s in Biology, a Master’s in Teaching, and another Master’s in Technological Systems Management.  Apart from some fiddling around in a working Drosophila genetics lab during my undergraduate career, I have never particularly had the opportunity to conduct genuine scientific research. This opportunity, and the chance to bring these skills back in to my classroom was the major reason that I jumped at the chance to apply for the DOE-ACTS fellowship.  Since my time as a DOE-ACTS teacher began, I have spent one summer doing bioinformatics research analyzing dinucleotide frequencies in various prokaryotic genomes, and another working to map threatened populations of tiger beetles on the Brookhaven campus, with an eye towards informing the practice of depositing sediment on the firebreak where these populations live. The program has allowed me to purchase technology for my classroom that I would have been unable to purchase without the grant that the fellowship provides.  My work during the first summer lead me to create a computer science course for my high school, which previously did not have any such course.  The entire experience has made me feel more confident in my teaching, to the point where I am now presenting at local and state conferences regarding the integration of technology into my own practice, and helping other teachers to do the same.  Aside from this, the opportunities for networking among other teachers, scientists, and the staff at Brookhaven (all of whom are lovely and hard-working folks), has provided me with an expanded collegial base for the purpose of collaboration in my professional life.  

I know that you are a busy man, but I felt a need to write you this letter.  This past week, we were notified that all funding for the DOE ACTS program has been terminated, effective immediately.  When I began the program, I had to sign a variety of paperwork that amounted to a commitment on my part to work in the ACTS program for three summers.  For three summers, I have scheduled the rest of my life around this program.  I have declined other opportunities for employment.  Each summer, I have carried out research, documented this research in the form of posters, and professional development plans, and have generally done my best to show how much I have appreciated the experience. 

I find this sudden shift in priorities by the DOE to be very confusing, and extremely disappointing.  On one hand, the federal government, in the person of the President, members of congress, and others claim to want to support and expand STEM education to help our students be more globally competitive.  I know that you have given voice to similar sentiments in your time as Secretary of Energy, and previously in your career.  And yet, when presented with a program that does provide a progressive, forward-thinking mode of STEM teacher training, the DOE has suddenly cancelled it, and voided the commitments that it has made to a dedicated group of educators.   How can these two conflicting modes of action be held in the mind simultaneously?  How am I supposed to feel that the DOE, and by proxy the Federal Government, truly feel the way about educating the children of our country that it claims to, when its actions are completely contrary to its words? 

Tangentially, the way in which this change was handled, leaves the teachers who are affected by it feeling particularly abused.  Here, at the end of April, there are very few opportunities for similar summer experiences that are still available to those of us who find our planned summer gig’s summarily cancelled.  I have specifically given up an opportunity to teach at the Acadia Institute of Oceanography because I was committed to the ACTS program. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth when a government the proclaims a deep-seated appreciation for the efforts of its teachers engages in a course of action that is so callous toward a group of teachers who do so much above and beyond our “everyday” jobs.  Why the government would want to treat us so shabbily is not something that I can easily comprehend.

I am asking that as the Secretary of Energy, you are able to restore funding for this program for this summer, and all that follow it.  I have heard you speak about how important you feel the kind of opportunity a program like the ACTS program is for STEM teachers in this country.  Perhaps it is time for the Department of Energy to demonstrate that its priorities are similar to your own. Thank you for your time and attention.



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