Following the adoption Tuesday of new science education guidelines, school children in the US will—for the first time—be taught about global warming, an issue which has dramatically altered their planet's climate and has severe consequences for themselves and future generations.
However, the final guidelines fall short of making explicit the connection between rampant climate change and the human forces behind them. "It's buried at best," said Mark McCaffrey, policy director for the National Center for Science Education, referring to the role of fossil fuels, industrialization, and patterns of modern consumption and pollution.
Known as the Next Generation Science Standards, the new teaching standards were developed by a group of 26 state governments and organizations representing scientists and teachers and, though not mandatory, are the first broad national recommendations since 1996.
"Climate change is not a political issue and climate change is not a debate. It is science. It is strongly supported heavily research science, and our hope is that teachers will not see this as a political issue or a political debate." –Mario Molina, Alliance for Climate Education
Though many are heralding the introduction of climate change as a core aspect of science education for middle and high school students, others bemoan the watering down of earlier drafts which introduced the subject in kindergarten and made important connections between human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and climate changes.
The Guardian reports:
The standards are also much vaguer about the causes of climate change. An earlier version for primary school students had said explicitly that human activity was a driver of climate change. "It's not as explicit in terms of the connection between human activities and climate change," [Mario Molina, deputy director at the Alliance for Climate Education] said.
McCaffrey agreed. "They talk about climate just in a very general way," he said. "At the third grade level they are not explicit that they are talking about human activities."
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McCaffrey said the lack of clarity could be an opening for teachers to teach their own opinions in place of science, or resort to DVDs and other materials being pushed into classrooms by conservative groups that deny the existence of climate change.
"It opens the door for teaching a phony controversy," he said.
According to the New York Times, the educators behind the new standards said they were intended to "combat widespread scientific ignorance, to standardize teaching among states, and to raise the number of high school graduates who choose scientific and technical majors in college."
The proposal is for students to learn "fewer standards more deeply and not merely memorize information but understand how scientists actually investigated and gathered it," the Los Angeles Times reports.
The Next Generation guidelines reportedly take a "firm stand" regarding the importance of evolution in education—a scientific fact that commonly faces rebuke in conservative sectors and school systems who embrace the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act," an ALEC-authored bill which calls on educators to teach the "scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories" and mandates "an atmosphere of respect for different opinions and open-mindedness to new ideas" in the scientific sphere.
"Quite simply, students have a right to know about climate science and solutions," said Sarah Shanley Hope, the executive director of the Alliance for Climate Education.
"Climate change is not a political issue and climate change is not a debate. It is science. It is strongly supported heavily research science, and our hope is that teachers will not see this as a political issue or a political debate," Molina told The Guardian.
Financing for the project was provided by private foundations, including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Noyce Foundation and the Cisco Foundation, as well as DuPont.