In the US, there is intense debate about how we should teach our children about global warming or whether it should be taught in schools at all. Polls suggest that 62% of the population believe that solid evidence exists supporting the notion of the earth getting warmer. More and more teachers are reporting hostile responses from parents and children in response to global warming being discussed in classrooms.
Ever since the menace of greenhouse gases and global warming was first touted widely by the mass media in 1988, ideological battles between climate contrarians and eco-activists have raged in the United States. Decades later, prominent climate scientists still find themselves vilified by Americans opposed to environmental regulations and fending off attacks about their research in newsrooms and courtrooms. The mutual contempt and distrust displayed in these highly publicised clashes over climate has trickled down and now interferes with rational discussion inside ordinary school classrooms.
When it comes to teaching climate change, the heat is on. Politically conservative parents across the country are upset about what children are taught inside America’s schools. Self-styled climate-change sceptics, who routinely challenge the scientific community’s consensus that emissions from burning fossil fuels have raised the average global temperature, now object to science lessons about these findings –unless they include counter-arguments from critics of the man-made warming consensus. (Only 3% of scientists disagree with the theory.)
Typically, sceptics within the Tea Party movement sneer at educators and label them alarmists or “warmists” who aim to “perpetrate a hoax” in order to scare students into embracing green activism. Facts often get lost or obscured when non-specialists scrutinise science lesson-plans and try to insert political balance. Denialists scorn any semantic shift as political correctness and, if the phrase “global warming” is replaced with “climate change”, many consider it a tacit admission that warming trends do not follow predictions. Teachers and climate sceptics both claim to be safeguarding impressionable students from ideological spin.
Attempts to dissuade or intimidate science teachers from teaching climate change in US high school and elementary classrooms are not unusual. A recent online survey by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) found that 82% of elementary and high school science teachers have encountered climate scepticism from students, and 54% have experienced hostile reactions from parents after discussing global warming in class. Around 36% say they attempt to teach “both sides” of the issue.
Wherever extracting petroleum is big business, these political concerns seem to gain more traction and the pressure on local schools intensifies. State legislators in Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah already have introduced bills to prevent “propaganda” from being taught in science classrooms and to mandate the inclusion of “theoretical alternatives” to human-caused climate change.
Much of the language in this new legislation comes from model bills concocted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded advocacy group opposed to big government and environmental regulations. Such efforts are also championed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which advocates free-market perspectives on government policy. Matt Patterson, a CEI fellow, describes climate change as a “mass delusion”. He warned: “There is a danger that man will be convinced by these climate cultists to turn his back on the very political, economic and scientific institutions that made him so powerful, so wealthy, so healthy.”
In May 2011, a local school-board member in southern California, who was bothered by the “liberal dogma” of a proposed environmental science course, insisted that “multiple perspectives” be taught at Los Alamitos High School – even though all these views are not backed up by scientific evidence. “I believe my role on the board is to represent the conservative voice of the community and I’m not a big fan of global warming,” the board member, Jeffrey Barke, explained. “The teachers wanted [the class], and we want a review of how they are teaching it.”
The course in question, advanced-placement environmental science, followed California’s approved curriculum and was already offered at numerous other high schools without any objections. When the new policy of special oversight for controversial subjects was rescinded after just four months, most teachers felt relieved. Kathryn Currie, the science department chair at Los Alamitos High School, said in an email: “The school board has left us alone to teach science and that’s exactly what we should be doing.”
While academic freedom is valued in most American university research halls, the concept does not necessarily extend to public-school classrooms in the United States, where elected local school boards hold sway and teachers can’t count on tenure, or job security. There is no federally approved national curriculum. Course work in climate change is expected to be included in these new guidelines.
In Washington, congressman Henry Waxman, the leading Democrat on the House of Representatives’ energy and commerce committee, urged the US energy secretary, Steven Chu, to launch a national campaign for climate-change education. Waxman cited concerns that the public’s grasp of climate change is undermined by “powerful vested interests in the oil and coal industries successfully fanning disbelief”.
Source: China Dialogue