2011-08-10 "The Attacks on Climate Science Education Are Picking Up Steam" by Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney is 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 [http://money.cnn.com/2011/05/13/news/economy/coal_schools_scholastic/index.htm], 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 [http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/opinion/l17scholastic.html], 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 [http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6043/688.short]:
“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?
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 [http://www.desmogblog.com/what-s-conservative-white-men-and-climate-change-denial] like Jeffrey Barke, the Los Alamitos Unified School District board of education member [http://www.losal.org/1463101114192717217/site/default.asp] who has placed this school at the center of attacks on accurate climate science teaching [http://www.ocregister.com/news/-300559--.html?plckFindCommentKey=CommentKey:9162cfb3-be86-4da4-a114-627c954c8f05].
These people are nothing if not highly politicized and emotional. Here’s Barke in his own words [http://losalamitos.patch.com/articles/global-warming]:
“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.
Comments to the original article:
"Investigations of Climate Scientists" by GingerLadySlipper
The Tea Party (and the Maine Republican state party) has a plank to investigate climate scientists. The ludicrous and incompetent pursuit of Mann, who worked at UVa for a while early in the last decade continues even after most of what AG Cuccinelli requested was shot down by the Judge Peatross.
Now a bizarre investigation of a wildlife biologist is underway. Dr. Monnett co-authored a paper noting the observation of 4 drowned polar bears, published in 2006. The IG interrogated him at length yesterday for the 2cd time. He is suspended with pay -- but has not been told what he is being investigated for. Although the BOEMRE (successor to MMS, notorious for partying with the mining companies it leases to) said that Monnett was suspended for investigation of a different matter, many of the questions are reported as concerning the 2006 paper.
Some of the earlier questions said "statisticians" had checked the "arithmetic" in the 2006 paper. Sen. Inhofe has just sent a letter to BOEMRE. There is a whiff of the same cast of characters involved who are behind the Va pursuit of Dr. Mann. I have a strong hunch what "scientist" provided the balderdash for the Va AG.
Not a coincidence that papers, inherently simple and scientifically uncontroversial, were picked by Al Gore for his movie. The "hockey stick" and the "drowning polar bears" became poster boys for global warming. Dr. Monnett and his colleague Dr. Gleason had no idea that would happen when they published their observation of dead bears floating in the Arctic sea.
"I wonder why Barke things" by Dan J. Andrews
I wonder why Barke things most teachers are left of center? Are those in the middle and to the right of center not taking up teaching, and if so, why not--do they think teaching is not important? Is there a conspiracy to keep out most who are not left of center? It might be interesting to quiz Barke on this and see how far down the rabbit hole he drops.
This reminds me of some of the episodes in Garwood"s excellent book, Flat Earth, where flat earthers were saying the school system, full of corrupt people, are teaching young people a lie and it was their (flat earthers) duty to teach young people the truth so they would not be brainwashed by a worldwide conspiracy. The parallels with creationist techniques are obvious, as Garwood highlights numerous times, but the parallels with deniers are now evident even though she was not writing with that particular group of deniers in mind.