What Teachers Are Telling Kids About Climate Change

Recently, io9 reported that the Wyoming legislature became the first in the U.S. to reject new science standards for schools, claiming that lessons on climate change would wreck the state's economy. This week, a reporter for the National Journal sat in on a Wyoming science class, and it wasn't pretty.

As Clare Foran writes:

When it comes time to teach his high school sophomores about global warming, Wyoming science teacher Jim Stith shows "An Inconvenient Truth." The green documentary delivers an unambiguous message: Human activity is driving dangerous climate change.

But the third-year teacher is no devotee of the former vice president. "I make sure they watch it on a day I'm gone because I can't stand to listen to him talk," Stith said.

And he doesn't teach Gore's conclusions as settled science. After the film, his class watches a movie called "The Great Global Warming Swindle." It trots out an array of scientists, politicians, and economists who dispute the idea that climate change is man-made.

Then Stith asks his students to take a position. They can argue whatever they want as long as they back their claims with evidence. In the end, the class is left to draw its own conclusions. "We're putting stuff into our atmosphere that isn't great. And it's undeniable that the climate is changing," Stith said. "But whether humans are the cause, that's a bit more open to interpretation."

This scene is playing out in classrooms across the country. To date, only 11 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, which were developed to update K-12 science education in schools for the first time since 1998. But, in other U.S. states, existing science guidelines leaves teachers to their own devices.

There's a lot of variability in how this is taught right now," Minda Berbeco, the National Center for Science Education's programs and policy director told the National Journal. "What's really troubling is a lot of students are not receiving accurate scientific information."

Confronted with little guidance and local political pressure, climate change deniers are often getting equal airing in classrooms:

Georgia teacher Virginia Kirima asks her 11th-grade environmental-science students to debate whether climate change is natural or man-made. According to Kirima, there is no right or wrong answer. The team that offers up the most compelling scientific evidence wins. "It's up to them to accept whether climate change is natural or caused by humans," Kirima said.

Other teachers stop short of spelling out facts, in part, because they're afraid of what might happen if they do. "I stay out of the process because when I first started teaching this I was labeled an evangelist. I have a kid of my own, and I have a job to keep," said Colorado science teacher Cheryl Manning. "I want my students to come away understanding that human activity has caused global warming. But I don't tell them that explicitly."

[Via the National Journal]