Climate Change Education Not Making the Grade

Students attend Climate Education Week 2015   Photo: Leigh Vogel

As young people are increasingly demanding that the U.S. government take action on climate change, a poll conducted by National Public Radio and Ipsos found that efforts to educate students on this important topic are woefully inadequate. Most states have curriculum requirements that at least mention human-caused climate change, however, the overwhelming majority of teachers are not teaching their students about it in their classrooms, and students are not learning about climate change at home from their parents either.  The poll results are striking.  According to NPR:

  • 84% of parents support teaching students in elementary, middle and high school thoroughly about climate change, including its effects on our environment, economy, and society, which is a higher percentage than adults in general.
  • 86% of teachers believe that climate change should be taught in schools, but only 55% of the teachers surveyed actually teach or even talk about it in their own classrooms — with the reason being that the subject is outside their subject matter.
  • A third of teachers report worrying about parents’ reaction to teaching climate change — they do not want to field parents’ complaints.

Regardless of what they are learning (or not) in their classrooms, students themselves are increasingly experiencing climate change first hand.  According to an NPR analysis, “in just one semester, the fall of 2017, for example, 9 million U.S. students across nine states and Puerto Rico missed some amount of school owing to natural disasters — which scientists say are becoming more frequent and severe because of climate change.”

Why This Matters: How can the U.S. possibly compete, much less excel in the post-carbon economy if our students are not learning about climate change in school? How meaningful can our efforts at STEM education be if climate change is not in fact being taught? And given that they will be living with the impacts of climate change for the foreseeable future, it seems particularly unfair to burden them and yet do so little to ensure they are prepared.  It is no wonder that climate change is a generational issue.  And it is a wonder that young people are making their voices so well heard despite the fact that they are not getting even the most basic climate education in school.  This must change.

What You Can Do: Talk to your kids about climate change!  Check out the web sites Connect4Climate and National Geographic’s Education Resource Library where you can find resources to teach your kids yourself.  But also, speak up and let your children’s teachers and principals know that you expect climate change to be taught in their school.  Raise it at back to school night and parent-teacher conferences.  This is something that is totally within our control.  

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