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Climate change education on NPR

NPR

National Public Radio highlighted climate change education in a segment of its Morning Edition show broadcast on March 27, 2013, featuring NCSE's Mark McCaffrey. "By the time today's K-12 students grow up, the challenges posed by climate change are expected to be severe and sweeping," the segment began. "Now, for the first time, new nationwide science standards due out this month [i.e., the Next Generation Science Standards, now expected in April 2013] will recommend that U.S. public school students learn about this climatic shift taking place."

McCaffrey told NPR, "the state of climate change education in the U.S. is abysmal," citing survey data indicating that only one in five students "feel like they've got a good handle on climate change from what they've learned in school" and that two in three students feel that they're not learning much about it at all in their schools. NCSE's recent report "Toward a Climate & Energy Literate Society" (PDF) was cited as offering recommendations for improving climate and energy literacy in the United States over the course of the next decade.

The politicization of climate change education is a barrier, however. Besides the spate of legislation, such as the bills considered in Arizona, Colorado, and Kansas in 2013, NPR observed, "educators say the politicization of climate change has led many teachers to avoid the topic altogether. Or, they say some do teach it as a controversy ... The end result for students? Confusion." And the NGSS may provoke a backlash from climate change deniers: a representative of the Heartland Institute indicated that his organization was prepared to be critical of their treatment of climate science.

Heidi Schweingruber of the National Research Council, which developed the framework on which the NGSS are based, said, "There was never a debate about whether climate change would be in there," adding, "It is a fundamental part of science, and so that's what our work is based on, the scientific consensus." She emphasized that climate change presents pedagogical challenges: teachers need to avoid (in NPR's words) "freaking kids out". McCaffrey concurred, adding that teachers will need not only training on the science but also preparation to deal with the pressure that comes with teaching it.