A “Lynch-Mob Hate” Against Climate Science Teachers

 

Written by Chris Mooney, a Washington correspondent for Seed magazine, senior correspondent for The American Prospect and author of the bestselling book The Republican War on Science.

A few months back, those who care about accurate climate science and energy education in high school classes registered a minor victory. Under fire from outlets like The New York Times, the education publishing behemoth Scholastic (of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Harry Potter fame) pulled an energy curriculum sponsored by the American Coal Foundation, which gave a nice PR sheen to coal without bothering to cover, uh, the whole environmental angle. The curriculum had reportedly already been mailed to 66,000 classrooms by the time it got yanked.

When it comes to undermining accurate and responsible climate and energy education at the high school level, Scholastic may have been the most prominent transgressor. But precisely because it is a massive and respected educational publisher, and actually cares what The New York Times thinks, it was also the most moderate and easy to reason with.

Although it’s hard to find online now, I’ve reviewed the offending coal curriculum, entitled “The United States of Energy.” In my view, it didn’t even contain any obvious falsehoods—except for errors of omission. It was more a case of subtle greenwashing.

What’s currently seeping into classrooms across the country is far, far worse—more ideological, and more difficult to stop. We’re talking about outright climate denial being fed to students—and accurate climate science teaching being attacked by aggressive Tea Party-style ideologues.

Science magazine just released a report on the state of affairs out there in this place called America, and it’s ugly. From the piece:

“It’s very difficult when we, as science teachers, are just trying to present scientific facts,” says Kathryn Currie, head of the [Los Alamitos High School’s] science department. And science educators around the country say such attacks are becoming all too familiar. They see climate science now joining evolution as an inviting target for those who accuse “liberal” teachers of forcing their “beliefs” upon a captive audience of impressionable children.

“Evolution is still the big one, but climate change is catching up,” says Roberta Johnson, executive director of the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) in Boulder, Colorado. An informal survey this spring of 800 NESTA members found that climate change was second only to evolution in triggering protests from parents and school administrators. One teacher reported being told by school administrators not to teach climate change after a parent threatened to come to class and make a scene. Online message boards for science teachers tell similar tales…

There seems to be a lynch-mob hate against any teacher trying to teach climate change,” says Andrew Milbauer, an environmental sciences teacher at Conserve School, a private boarding school in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin.

Milbauer felt that wrath after receiving an invitation to participate in a public debate about climate change. The event, put on last year by Tea Party activists, proposed to pit high school teachers against professors and climate change deniers David Legates and Willie Soon in front of students from 200 high schools. Organizers said the format was designed “to expand knowledge of the global warming debate to the youth of our state.” When Milbauer and his colleagues declined to participate, organizer Kim Simac complained to the local papers about their “suspicious” behavior. Milbauer corresponded for a time on the organization’s blog until Simac wrote that Milbauer, “in his role as science teacher, is passing on to our youth this monstrous hoax as being the gospel truth.”

How to fight this? (See next page…)


That’s very difficult because, as the Science piece notes, you can’t use the First Amendment. It only bans teaching religion in classrooms, and it is hard to claim that climate change denial—unlike evolution denial—is fundamentally religious in nature. I wouldn’t want to have to argue that case in court.

But while not religiously impelled in a traditional sense, the conservative activists who are attacking the teaching of climate science at the grassroots do fit a familiar profile. We’ve gotten to know them very well by now.

They are hierarchical in outlook, and tend to deny all manner of environmental risks. They often believe that climate science is part of a global conspiracy to impose a statist economy. And of course, they are often conservative white men like Jeffrey Barke, the Los Alamitos Unified School District board of education member who has placed this school at the center of attacks on accurate climate science teaching.

These people are nothing if not highly politicized and emotional. Here’s Barke in his own words:

“Most teachers are left to center, and if we leave it to teachers to impose their liberal views, then it would make for an unbalanced lesson,” Barke said. “Some people believe that global warming is a crock of crap, and others are zealots.”

What is the case for not letting people like Barke influence young students?

Simple: When a political fight erupts at a school over the teaching science, students are effectively being taught to tie science together with emotional, politicized reasoning processes–the way the adults who are interefering in the curriculum have already done in their own minds.

That’s precisely the opposite of what we want to be instilling in young brains. Students ought to be learning to think critically, to be dispassionate and apportion their beliefs to the evidence.

Attacks on climate science in schools aren’t just interferences with teaching, then. By supplying teenagers with politicized misinformation, you’re prepping them to have the kinds of emotionally driven argumentative responses that make our public discourse at the national level so fruitless.

You’re not just instilling denial. You’re creating the next generation of political dysfunction.

You’re not teaching kids to think, you’re teaching them to shout.

This post was originally published by Climate Progress.

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Casualties in the New Science Wars: The Nation’s Children

Remember When Newt Gingrich Cared About Climate Change? (Video)

Top 5 Quotes From Newly Elected Climate Deniers

Photo from the UK Department for International Development via flickr creative commons

154 comments

Kari Tompkins
Kari Tompkins4 years ago

I really don't understand how this issue can be so threatening to some people's beliefs, but a quote from the Fourth Doctor comes to mind:

“The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views...which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.”

Michael MacDonald

The right wing has been denying everything from evolution to climate change to even the earth being round
since as long as any one of us can look back.
when will people start paying attention to history and realize that we should always take the opinion of expert scientists over politicians/people who are in conflict of interest.

William Y.
William Y.4 years ago

@ Sandy E. It is obvious that you do not understand climate change. It is not the local changes, but the changes caused by the overall temperature of the entire earth's rising. This causes changes in air & ocean currents changing the weather patterns in vast areas, some warmer, some colder, some drier, some wetter. This affects the environment of these places. Climate change is a natural phenomenon, but humans are enhancing it by overpopulation, excess burning of carbon based fuels & excessive clearing of rain forests and other vegetation. Too many people need more space, thus clearing of forested land which cuts down on the use of CO2 by the plants keeping larger amounts in the atmosphere raising the surface temperature which causes the changes.

Sandy Erickson
Sandy Erickson4 years ago

Is there climate change? We have summer fall,winter,spring. They are not exactly the same every year. If we look into the history of weather there have been changes. Do we feel we have the power to stop what the weather does? Is the weather going to wipe out the human race? What are we looking at here? A new relgion? Or maybe an old one. Worshiping the sun? the wind the rain?

Den S.
Dennis Sweitzer5 years ago

Today's right-wingers throw the word "liberal" around like right-wingers in Germany in the '30s threw around the word "jew". The parallels are rather scary when you actually look at what was being said in the early days, before the National Socialist party came to power.

Glenn M.
Glenn Meyer5 years ago

IF the GOP could make money from saying the world is flat, they would.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle5 years ago

When right-wingers call the educational establishment "liberal", what they're really objecting to is THINKING, REASONING. Many studies show people to the left have brains that are inquisitive, curious, and not afraid of questions. People to the right want all things KNOWN, black and white, and are scared of questions. All of life is investigating and learning from that. In science, mistakes are made and learned from -- it's called an experiment with a hypothesis, and it is either proved or disproved. Schools are for teaching facts, and climate change/global warming is a reality that must be taught, discussed, learned from, added to, the mistakes brought out, if such are found, and a new hypothesis proposed. Spirituality has no place in science. On a practical level, we need children informed, so that the problems associated with climate change and global warming can be attacked with facts, when these children become adults. Education is for teaching children how to reason and think.

Mary Danforth
Mary Danforrh5 years ago

It appears that parents ignorance of climate change are keeping their children, who are the only future saviors of our planet, in the dark about the about what is happening to their earth and its future. It doesn't look good. If they can't see for themselves what is staring them in the face, then we are doomed. Already the oceans are rising from the melting of the glaciers and there are some islands that are losing their staple food supply to the salt water.They are having to go to the world food supply and we all know how safe that is. Money is so important to some people that they will doom our whole existance to acquire all they can. How much can they possibly need to have a nice comfortable life ? Its all about greed.

Mary Danforth
Mary Danforrh5 years ago

It appears that parents ignorance of climate change are keeping their children, who are the only future saviors of our planet, in the dark about the about what is happening to their earth and its future. It doesn't look good. If they can't see for themselves what is staring them in the face, then we are doomed. Already the oceans are rising from the melting of the glaciers and there are some islands that are losing their staple food supply to the salt water.They are having to go to the world food supply and we all know how safe that is. Money is so important to some people that they will doom our whole existance to acquire all they can. How much can they possibly need to have a nice comfortable life ? Its all about greed.

Tina Scislow
Tina Scislow5 years ago

This is important for me because I am a teacher, myself. I teach English in Peru and have done so since I was 15. I am now 50 and have three kids of my own. However, I have always felt that my students in some way were my own children and therefore have taken their "education" seriously to heart. I write quote un-quote education because I am talking about more than simple instruction. We need to help guide their minds, spirits, hearts, and souls as well as their intellect. They need to be prepared to make conscious decisions throughout their lives, and to do this we need to teach them to be aware of what is going on around them and to also be responsible to as well as for everyone and everything on the planet. This includes educating and instructing them on green technology, conservation, ecology and common sense. We cannot hide the sun with just a finger would be the English translation of a saying in Spanish, which means that the situation is simply staring us in the face.
The situation in which we find ourselves is urgent, and I believe that the world needs to realise this and seriously unit and take action. There is no other way. This, as well as the future generations is and should be the most important things to all governments on the face of the earth at present.
We need to bring them up, our students and young people, in harmony, love, kindness, and responsibility. This I believe will save them, the world, and the future of all things.
Blessings to all o