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Home GreeniacsArticles Education Climate Change in School
Written by Elizabeth Jones
Tuesday, 28 August 2012
Climate Change in School
Like evolution in the 1920s, climate change science in schools has become a contentious
issue. However, unlike evolution, there is no U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring that
teaching efforts related to climate change be accurate.
1
Without this directive, the battle
about what to teach has begun to rage throughout the country. Some examples of this
debate regarding teaching climate change in schools include:
This spring of 2012, the Tennessee Legislature passed a bill that protects teachers
who do not agree with accepted climate science and want to teach alternative
explanations.
2
In 2011, the school board in Los Alamitos, California passed a policy requiring
teachers to have special instructional oversight when talking about climate change.
3
The education committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives recently
approved a bill that allows teachers to discuss the "scientific weaknesses of existing
scientific theories" such as evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human
cloning.
4
The House of Representatives approved the billthe Scientific Education
and Academic Freedom Act HB 1551and it now awaits the Oklahoma Senates
approval.
5
In Mesa County, Colorado, a group created a petition to prohibit the teaching of
manmade climate change and other personal views.
6
In Portola Valley, California, a parent filed a complaint against a teacher for showing
the film An Inconvenient Truth in a sixth grade classroom. As a resolution, the school
superintendant began requiring parental permission before students viewed the
movie in the future and prohibiting teachers from talking about ways to address climate
change.
7

8
In addition to the controversies within individual states and districts, various non-profit groups
are also trying to influence climate change education. One on side is the National Center for
Science Education (NCSE), which works to defend climate science and evolution education in
the public school education system.
9
On the other side is the Heartland Institute, which is
responding with a curriculum that emphasizes climate change skepticism.
10
Monkey Business in Tennessee
Earlier in 2012 the Tennessee legislature lived up to the legacy established in the State in
the 1920s. Tennessee was the site of the 1925 "Monkey Trial," in which John Scopes was
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Washing your clothes in cold or
warm instead of hot water saves 500
pounds of carbon dioxide a year, and
drying your clothes on a clothesline
six months out of the year would
save another 700 pounds.
19
convicted of violating a state law when he taught "man has descended from a lower order of
animals."
11
Eighty-seven years later, the Tennessee Legislature has passed a law (which the
Governor didn't sign, but didn't veto either) that says that teachers cannot be prohibited from
"helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the
scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the
course being taught."
12
Basically, the law allows public schoolteachers to challenge climate
change and evolution in their classrooms without fear of sanction.
Proponents of the Tennessee law argue that it protects teachers from school administrators
and gives them the clarity and security to discuss alternative ideas to evolution and climate
change that students may have picked up at home and want to explore in class.
13
However,
critics believe that the measure really just gives legal cover to teachers to introduce
pseudoscientific ideas to students.
14;15
Whatever the true motivations are, it is clear that
the law has influenced the development of similar legislation in other states. At least five
other states, including Oklahoma, are considering similar legislation this year.
16;17
National Curriculum
Most of us know science textbooks to be
dry and objective. A curriculum is usually
vetted by several parties before it is
presented in a matter that is driven by
sound scientific logicnot tainted by
ideological or philosophical positions.
18
How then, is it possible for there to be so
much contention about how climate
science is taught, and for think tanks to
influence science curricula? To begin
with, there are currently no national
standards for how climate change
should be taught, and most school
districts do not require teachers to teach the consensus position that global warming is a
man-made phenomenon . The lack of standards allows science teachers to teach
climate change in whatever way they want.
20

Politically conservative educators are increasingly relying on educational materials from the
Heartland Institute, a conservative and libertarian public policy think tank. Apparently,
Heartland aims to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next two years to design
and distribute a curriculum specifically focused on foster[ing] doubt about the scientific
evidence surrounding climate change.
21;22
In response to the Heartland Institute, several
watchdog groups are fighting back. Groups like the National Center for Science Education
argue that the Heartland Institute is portraying differences of opinion on climate as being
equally balanced between believers and nonbelievers, when in reality most scientists agree
that humans are warming the atmosphere.
23

As climate change has become an increasingly politicized issue, the tension between liberal
and conservative groups over how the science should be taught has also grown. While
scientists focus on providing students with the best available information based on empirical
and logical support, some parents believe that the ideas of consensus, fairness, and political
controversy should determine the science curricula. In schools, information is often
presented as truth or fact to children who are still developing their belief systems, and will
therefore be particularly, and arguable easily, influenced. Thus, we should expect the battle
over teaching climate science to continue for the foreseeable future.
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_______________________________________________________________________________
1
http://ncse.com/taking-action/ten-major-court-cases-evolution-creationism
2
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/13/us-usa-education-tennessee-idUSBRE83C0JR20120413
3
http://losalamitos.patch.com/articles/global-warming
4
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21512-oklahoma-bill-tackles -
controversial-science-education.html
5
http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/03/oklahoma_house057541.html
6
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/26/mesa-county-teachers-peti_n_590319.html
7
http://www.educationnews.org/k-12-schools/new-science-
curriculum-to-address-climate-change-controversy/
8
http://tcktcktck.org/2012/01/rebecca-anderson-climate-science-education-is-important/22850
9
http://ncse.com/about
10
http://www.eenews.net/public/climatewire/2012/03/15/1
11
http://creationwiki.org/Tennessee_vs._John_Scopes
12
http://chattanoogan.com/2012/4/15/223916/Lee-Davis-Governor-Haslam-Allows.aspx
13
http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/11/nation/la-na-tennessee-climate-law-20120411
14
Id.
15
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=tennessee-law-
will-allow-teachers-to-challenge-climate-science
16
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/13/us-usa-education-tennessee-idUSBRE83C0JR20120413
17
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21512-oklahoma-bill
-tackles-controversial-science-education.html
18
http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20120314/heartland-institute-climate-change-
skepticism-science-education-experts-david-wojick-ipcc-kyoto-protocol
19
http://greenplanetethics.com/wordpress/climate-change-denial-curriculum-moving-into-public-
school-science-classrooms/
20
Id.
21
http://www.livescience.com/18531-classroom-battleground-climate-change.html
22
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/16/science/earth/in-heartland-institute-leak-a-plan-to-discredit-
climate-teaching.html?pagewanted=all
23

http://www.eenews.net/public/climatewire/2012/03/15/1
Comments (1)
1. 25-09-2012 15:15
Refocus the argument
I vehemently oppose dogmatic people and institutions such as Heartland Institute. Their
efforts to introduce their politics into K-12 education is despicable. HOWEVER, I think it is
a critical mistake, and one that is absolutely unnecessary, for those genuinely concerned
about climate change to argue anthropogenic causes, at least until very strong evidence
of it is established. All that is needed, and an argument that cannot be refuted, is that
humans may be able to slow or even reverse the trajectory of climate change. No need to
blame humanity, but imperative to give it the power to cure.
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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 28 August 2012 )
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