Teaching kids about climate change in school is critical and a growing group of teachers around the country are pushing for school boards to make this curriculum mandatory. Park Guthrie, who teaches sixth grade at a school in Occidental, California decided to take action and founded Schools for Climate Action (S4CA), doing so right before the Tubbs fire ravaged Sonoma County in 2017. As a representative of the Pacific faction of the National School Board Association, he drafted a measure for the NSBA specifically advocating for disaster relief funding, urging a reduction in carbon emissions, and encouraging states to adopt climate change curriculum. To the dismay of many, the Florida delegation (representing one of the most climate-ravaged states in the nation) defeated the measure and stripped all mention of climate change from the proposed text, instead changing it into a “natural disaster resolution.” This story isn’t unique, school boards even in states like California have been apprehensive to take a stand on climate change for fear of being “too political.”
Guthrie’s highschool-aged son Kai told Nexus Media that “We know that climate change is not political. [School board associations] are advocating at the state level for policy to help school boards and to help, by extension, school children. To ignore climate change because certain members of their organization might feel uncomfortable, they’re actually helping the people in power continue to think it’s okay to not do anything about it.”
Currently climate curriculum is dependent on a patchwork of state and city legislation–for instance, Portland, Oregon has banned textbooks that cast doubt on climate change while Idaho has stripped climate change from its school guidelines. Nexus Media also explained that while climate silence may pervade national organizations, grassroots action is happening in schools — fast:
- In March, dozens of students, parents and teachers, including Guthrie and Kai, traveled to Washington, DC to deliver climate resolutions to every member of Congress and to meet with education advocates.
- To date, 43 school boards in seven states have passed resolutions modeled by SC4A,
- While an increasing number of student councils are also adopting their own resolutions to target lawmakers on climate action.
Why This Matters: If school boards exist to support schools and education then skirting the subject of climate change in the curriculum and not acknowledging how it affects the local community is not acceptable. Not only does climate change threaten the planet children will inherit but the anxiety that comes with worrying about climate change also threatens their mental health. Just as any other science is taught in school to teach students about how the world works, climate change must be part and parcel of this basic education and conservative special interests shouldn’t get to challenge it. Especially in states like California and Texas, school-aged children are losing their homes due to wildfires or storms, or have friends who are direct victims of climate disasters, these kids need resources to cope with and understand what’s happening around them. Climate curriculum isn’t political, on the contrary, it’s negligent if it’s not taught in schools. School boards must step up to ensure American children are receiving the knowledge they need to face the future of a warming planet. One thing’s for sure, climate education in the United States is not making the grade and school boards need to be doing more to change this.