New Science Curriculum to Address Climate Change Controversy

The groups currently drafting new science standards for American classrooms have decided to include a section addressing the issue of climate change. The Congressionally chartered National Academies, including the National Research Council, plan to include a document drafted last year that says that human activities have at least a partial impact on climate.

Although there's a strong consensus in scientific literature on anthropogenic climate change, in America the issue is a source of significant controversy and debate. Just how strident the debate over climate change had become came as a surprise to one California middle school teacher:

When Treena Joi, a teacher at Corte Madera School in Portola Valley, Calif., last year showed her sixth-grade students the global-warming movie "An Inconvenient Truth"—a documentary in which former Vice President Al Gore issues dire warnings about climate change—the drama quickly spread beyond the classroom.

A father filed a formal complaint accusing Ms. Joi of "brainwashing" the students. He demanded that she apologize to her students or be fired, according to the complaint. The local school superintendent settled the matter by requiring parental permission before students viewed the movie in the future and prohibiting teachers from talking about ways to address climate change.

Ms. Joi said that this was the first time she'd been confronted by such extreme parental reaction, even though in the past she taught other subjects generally considered controversial such as evolution and sex education.

While the battle between global warming supporters and skeptics rages on in state houses, court houses, news programs and everywhere in between, it's no wonder that school teachers have felt more than once that they are caught in the middle.

When her daughter's ninth-grade teacher mimicked a gagging motion when discussing climate change during science class in Clifton Park, N.Y, Kimberly Danforth complained to the school science advisor for redress.

The teacher explained he was playing devil's advocate and actually believed in mainstream climate-change theories, but Ms. Danforth, who believes children should be taught about global warming, wasn't persuaded. "He seemed to be thumbing his nose at our values," she said.

David Wojick, who is leading the effort, backed by a Conservative think tank the Heartland Institute, to design a scientific curriculum that challenges the conventional view of global warming, says that schools shouldn't be seeking to teach only one side of the debate, but instead to offer a balanced view that will allow students to reach their own conclusions. Arguments like these are very familiar to Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education which has previously opposed efforts to introduce Intelligent Design into science classrooms around the country.

Like evolution, climate change is "settled science," said Scott. "We shouldn't fight the culture wars in the high-school classroom."

03 14, 2012
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