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Defending climate change education

What can you do to defend climate change education when it is attacked in your local community?

Attacks on climate education are often encountered:

  • at the level of the individual classroom, with teachers denying climate change themselves or encountering pressure from climate change deniers in the community
  • at the level of the local school district, with policies specifically intended or selectively applied to undermine climate education
  • at the level of state government, with laws or state education standards specifically intended or selectively applied to undermine climate education
  • in informal education, with museums, zoos, parks, and the like encountering pressure from climate change deniers in the community or from policymakers fearing such pressure

Through such attacks, climate change denial is already affecting education, and the assault is likely to continue as climate change education increases and expands.

Each incident is unique — and you are encouraged to get in touch with NCSE for advice — but there are a few basic principles to follow in any of these venues.

  • Think local. Just as all politics is local, so is all activism. It is you, and people like you — local citizens, acting locally — who will have the most impact locally. Decisionmakers such as school board members and state legislators may heed the opinion of national scientific and educational organizations, but are sure to heed the opinions of the people who elect them.
  • Understand the system. Ascertain the responsibilities, policies, and timetable of the school, of the school district, or of the legislature, board of education, or department of education, as appropriate. You need to know what is happening, when it is happening, who is making it happen, and how you can arrange to have a say.
  • Don’t go it alone. If you are the only activist, there is a risk that policymakers will regard you as a lone crank. Although it is possible to do it all yourself, especially if the problem is at the individual classroom level, the proverb is true: in union there is strength. Many people — parents, teachers, scientists, clergy, businesspeople — share your concerns about the integrity of science education.
  • Be civil, diplomatic, and friendly. In dealing with policymakers, you want to be perceived as a friendly advisor, not a hostile critic. Be calm and polite, rather than outraged; inquisitive and informative (but still concerned), rather than combative; helpful and cooperative (a useful phrase is “What can we do…”), rather than confrontational.
  • Work behind the scenes. If the issue is not public, it is important not to make it public prematurely. Doing so not only alerts the opposition about the issue but also runs the risk of antagonizing the decisionmakers — they are likely to be more receptive to your concerns if they haven’t been embarrassed in public first. You can air your concern in public after they refuse to listen.
  • Become a packrat. Any piece of information about the policymakers or the local climate change deniers may prove to be useful, especially if there is any prospect of a legal challenge ensuing. Take notes at, or even record, relevant meetings and events; collect and file material that appears in print and on the web.
  • Be informed about the issues. You don’t have to be a climate scientist yourself! Concentrate on challenging the pillars of climate change denial by explaining that climate change is good science, that teaching climate change is educationally appropriate, and that it’s unfair not to teach the scientific consensus on climate change.

Learn specific tips for writing a public letter or testifying before policymakers. Or learn about supporting climate change education within the educational system. Voices for Climate Change Education collects organizational statements in support of teaching about climate change.