Friday, February 12, 2016

Most American children are not taught well about climate change

There was a rather depressing report in the Guardian recently about a US study by Pennsylvania State University and the National Centre for Science Education that shows just how badly climate change is being taught in American schools.
A survey of 1,500 teachers covering all 50 states found that only 38% of American schoolchildren were taught that climate change is largely the result of the burning of fossil fuels, which is the generally accepted scientific consensus today. About 30% of teachers spend less than an hour a year on climate change and, even in higher grades, much of that time is spent going over old material without introducing more advanced material.
But even what IS taught is not necessarily correct. Some 7% attributed global warming to natural causes (wrong!); 22% did mention the scientific consensus, but went to on to claim that there was significant disagreement among scientists (also wrong!); 4% made no attempt at all to talk about the causes (arguably just as wrong!).
Although political pressure is probably behind this situation, whether the teachers are aware of it or not, there are other factors to take into account. Only 30% of middle school teachers themselves, and 45% of high school teachers, seem to be aware that human activity is the main driver of climate change, and fewer than half of teachers received any training at all in climate science at university (and this is particularly an issue with older teachers). Also, climate science is not yet part of the testable curriculum for many schools, so that there are fewer guidelines available to teachers, and their effort is of course directed at subject matter covered by standardized testing.
There is also evidence from an earlier Harvard study that public school textbooks are misleading in their portrayal of climate change, many suggesting that there is substantial doubt in the scientific community about the causes of global warming, and some even suggesting that increasing temperatures may be beneficial.
All in all, though, the report is pretty damning, with its conclusions that almost two-thirds of American children are taught lessons on climate change that do not rise to the level of a sound science education. It is especially poignant that these children are the people we will be relying on to lift the planet out of its suicidal trajectory, and also those whose lives will probably be most affected by the ravages of climate change.

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