Ninth grade science at the Academy for Career and College Education began the usual way last fall. Victoria Matthew's students learned the difference between biotic and abiotic characteristics, then progressed to the basics of scientific method. By Thanksgiving, they were ready for climate change. That's when Matthew braced herself.
"Initially, I thought I was going to get a lot of pushback from the kids, said Matthew, a teacher at the inner-city charter school for grades six through 12. "But I didn't encounter any. I was surprised."
Like teaching evolution, efforts to improve climate science lessons have opened rifts in classrooms and school districts across the United States. Parents have pressured teachers not to teach the subject. Teachers have watered down the science. Special interests – from the Heartland Institute on the right to Facing the Future on the left – have vied to influence curriculum. Some states and districts have ignored the topic altogether. Others insist on a "balanced" debate that pits a small minority of scientists who deny human-driven climate change against the findings of nearly all earth and atmospheric scientists.
But the landscape is changing rapidly and profoundly in public schools.