In November 2011, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) polled its 600,000 members and found that 82 percent had faced skepticism around climate change education from their students, and 54 percent faced skepticism from parents. Most notably, NSTA reported that several of their respondents noted the political polarization of climate change education and the effect it has on their teaching. Climate change has been a divisive issue, particularly regarding its role in the classroom, for a number of years. In 2007, President Barack Obama—then Sen. Obama of Illinois—introduced a bill to Congress to establish the Climate Change Education Program, which ultimately never became a law. The decision to include this discussion in the curriculum and how to tackle it has been largely left to states and individual districts.
Many legislators are asking that climate change be treated in a similar fashion to their handling of the evolution vs. creationism debate—that equal time is offered for their skeptics to weigh in. Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Kentucky have introduced state laws with these standards, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a nonprofit providing resources to schools and parents, has made one of its core missions advocating for evolution and now climate change in classroom discussions.
“We have been hearing for several years now that teachers were getting pushback on teaching climate change, and some of the playbooks used by those promoting teaching ‘both sides’ was very similar to the attempt to have evolution ‘balanced’ by creationism and intelligent design,” said Mark McCaffrey to Oregon Public Broadcasting in January. McCaffrey is spearheading the Center’s new initiative. “From my experience working with teachers, it is clear that the so-called ‘controversy’ about climate change science is a major impediment to teachers and the polarized political climate around teaching the topic is a big problem.”
New national K12 science standards are expected to debut at the end of this year that many predict will include climate change. Educators and legislators alike foresee the debate will only intensify from here.