Thanks to right-wing deniers, schools still sow seeds of doubt over climate change

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tags: climate change, global warming



Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at New York University. He is the co-author, with Emily Robertson, of “The Elusive Ideal: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools,” which will be published by University of Chicago Press. Reach him at JLZIMM@aol.com.

Last Saturday, delegates from 195 countries signed a historic pact on human-made climate change. Following two weeks of debate in a Paris suburb, they agreed to lower their planet-warming pollution and to establish international monitoring and reporting of it.

But in many American classrooms, students are debating whether pollution warms the planet at all. According to a recent survey by the National Center for Science Education, 40 percent of teachers present human-made climate change as “controversial.”

That’s the result of a concerted effort by right-wing activists to raise specious questions about established science. And it harms the effort to teach truly controversial questions, which have too often been neglected in our schools.

Indeed, the most prominent founder of state-sponsored schools wanted them to omit controversial issues altogether. “If the day ever arrives when the school room shall become a cauldron for the fermentation of all the hot and virulent opinions, in politics and religion, that now agitate our community,” Massachusetts education secretary Horace Mann warned in 1844, “the fate of our glorious public school system will be sealed, and speedy ruin will overwhelm it.”

In the early 20th century, educators influenced by John Dewey and other so-called Progressives argued that future citizens needed to learn about the public issues they would face as adults. So schools introduced “current events” lessons and periodic classroom debates, where children took sides on the contested political questions of their day. ...




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