Climate change in classrooms

In the last couple of days I’ve noticed articles (e.g. here, here and here) about and around the push being made to introduce climate change into curricula in elementary and middle schools.  And while I think it all well and good to introduce science into a classroom, it has to be done in a way that accomplishes more than simply picking a controversial subset of science and pushing it as was done with evolution and creationism 20 years ago.   

I used to joke that science education at the elementary and middle school level was the reason that climate change is even a subject of controversy.  With 1/3 of students believing the gospel of AGW and 1/3 believing that dinosaurs walked the earth 6K years ago – you’d be certifiable if you believed that we are teaching anything vaguely resembling science any time before university.  I believe this in large part is because as a society we have never had the interest or capability to effectively teach science, technology, engineering and maths at any level before university. 

And because we are so inept at teaching science we have to reduce instruction to a few cherry picked examples selected for reasons other than their value as examples of the way science is done and what science can do for society.  I’d postulate that if we had decent science instruction, we’d not be having any conversation whatsoever about climate change occurring.  It is always changing as that is what dynamic systems do.  That should be non-controversial.  It is a fact.

Now certainly there are other questions around climate change that could be addressed and considered: effects assessed hypothetically, predictive models created, the feasibility of potential solutions and the ability of human behaviours and activities to impact global processes.  And perhaps they should be part of a curricula.  But without a firm grounding in science and tech and engineering and math we are left with the current situation – a politicized, toxic national debate among people completely incompetent to deal with the subject.  For evidence, just peruse the comment section of the LA Times link above.   A more chilling example of the Dunning-Kruger effect will not often be encountered.  It would be amusing if it did not highlight a national tragedy – the lack of a science literate populace.  

So I’m all for science in the classroom – but first we have to begin fundamentally educating our future teachers so they can educate future generations of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.  And then we won’t be just having these inane conversations but actually dealing economically, socially, politically and effectively with challenges presented by mankind’s capacity to impact the biosphere.