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As U.S. withdraws from Paris accord, schools look for ways to address climate change in classrooms

climate change

President Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate accord came as a surprise to just about no one. Still, the outrage and opposition from environmentalists, world leaders, and business executives was palpable.

Despite majority support for the accord by Americans from all political stripes, analysts like the New York Times’ Peter Baker say Mr. Trump’s decision was made to appease a largely isolationist, anti-globalist political base.

Following the president’s announcement, governors, mayors, and business leaders from across the country announced plans to stick with carbon emissions rules set while the United States was still a partner in the Paris agreement.

In the wake of all this, school leaders must figure out the best way to teach students about the environment, while balancing differences of opinion, both in the classroom and at home.

‘Academic freedom’ legislation on the rise

Restricting what is and isn’t taught about climate change in schools is the aim of several bills making their way through state legislatures.

As Emmalina Glinskis reports for Vice News, at least six states have passed, or are on the verge of passing, laws that would require teachers to frame climate change as a controversial theory rather than one supported by a majority of scientists.

States such as Idaho, Alabama, and Texas are also working on so-called “academic freedom” bills that would give teachers the flexibility to question scientific theories such as climate change.

While similar bills have circulated in state legislatures before, environmental experts say they haven’t come close to passing. Until now.

Reacting to a bill before the Oklahoma state legislature, Lisa Hoyos, director of climate education group Climate Parents, tells Vice:

“It’s important to note that this exact bill in Oklahoma has been proposed in the past seven times, and it’s only this year, at a time when there’s federal policy that’s egregiously anti-science, that the bill made it so far.”

Americans say yes to climate lessons

Despite attempts to censor climate lessons in schools, a survey conducted last year by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication found that 77 percent of American voters surveyed either somewhat or strongly agree that the “causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming” should be taught in schools.

A survey by the National Center for Science Education found that 75 percent of teachers have taught climate change in their classrooms. Despite the high percentage, there is no uniform approach to how the subject is taught. Nearly 30 percent of teachers said they emphasize both points of view when it comes to whether climate change is caused by humans. Another 10 percent of teachers surveyed said they reject the idea of climate change science altogether.

Teaching students most affected by climate change

For several students who live in remote, coastal communities, climate change is more than a theoretical debate—it’s a part of life.

CoastWatch for Action, an initiative organized by five different Alaska-based conservation groups, recently announced its plans to train teachers in native Alaskan villages how to help students prepare for the real-world effects of climate change.

As Marilyn Sigman, the University of Alaska Fairbanks professor coordinating the project told Alaska Public Media:

“We’re also trying to have the students understand that we have a changing environment. If they want to stay there, make a living there, they need to start becoming engaged with the community’s response to climate change and these types of issues.”

As the debate over climate change rages on the world stage, schools and school districts will continue to be affected by the conversation.

How is your school or district addressing climate science in your classrooms? Tell us in the comments.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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