As the effects of climate change really kick in, it won’t be the adults alive now who will have to deal with the increased flooding, heat waves, and food shortages, it will be their children. Considering the burden that they will have to bear, you might hope that they will be given the full facts about climate change and its causes. But a worrying report, published this week in Science, has found that many teachers in the U.S. are failing their students.
The findings, from talking to 1,500 middle- and high-school science teachers, don’t look good on paper. Many of the teachers questioned said that they only devote about one or two hours to the subject over the entire school year, and a third even said they gave the subject less than an hour. In addition, only 38 percent of children were taught that current climate change trends are the result of the continual burning of fossil fuels by man.
“At least one in three teachers bring climate change denial into the classroom, claiming that many scientists believe climate change is not caused by humans,” explains Josh Rosenau, one of the coauthors and programs and policy director for the National Center for Science Education. “Worse, half of the surveyed teachers have allowed students to discuss the supposed 'controversy' over climate change without guiding students to the scientifically supported conclusion.”
These results, that some science teachers are actively fueling the climate change debate when there is no debate to be had, are fairly distressing. This inadequate level of teaching, combined with the mixed messages being given to the students, simply makes them more likely to buy into the deliberately misleading information peddled by political and corporate interests who are purposely stoking the debate for their own personal gain and profits.
But the report notes that the blame doesn’t necessarily lie with the teachers. They are just as susceptible to the misinformation and lies spread by the energy industry, and in fact while over 97 percent of experts agree that climate change is man-made, over two-thirds of teachers thought that this figure was actually only 80 percent. Considering that, it might not be so surprising that the teachers feel like they should offer balance to the argument.
“If a majority of science teachers believe that more than 20 percent of climate scientists disagree that human activities are the primary cause, it is understandable that many would teach 'both sides' by conveying to students that there is legitimate scientific debate instead of deep consensus,” write the authors.
So it seems that in order to tackle this confusion within the classroom, we should also be tackling the subject outside of it, too. Slowly but surely, this does seem to be happening, assisted by more and more reports that fossil fuels giants have known about the threat of climate change for decades, but have been suppressing it. Let’s just hope that the change comes quick enough to give our children and grandchildren a fighting chance.