Schools Should Be Required To Teach Kids About Climate Change

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
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In the apocalyptic dumpster fire that has become this country over the past few years, here’s a glimmer of hope. Here’s a thread to hold onto that there is actual common sense in the world, and that the majority of people on this planet really do give a shit about their home and the home their great-grandchildren will inherit. According to an article published by NPR, most people believe in global climate change. 8 in 10 teachers support teaching kids about it, in fact. And, 4 out of 5 parents are on board too.

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So great news, right? Not quite.

Because although it seems that most people see the value in educating our young people about what’s happening with the Earth, why it’s happening, and how we can do a better job protecting it, in actuality, climate change is too often absent from lesson plans across the country.

Why, despite the majority of Democrats AND Republicans agreeing that yes, this is a real issue, isn’t this crucial topic taught in more schools? Why, despite the growing evidence of the havoc that climate change is wreaking on our planet—our only home—do fewer than half of K-12 teachers implement this discussion into their curriculum? For a myriad of reasons, according to NPR, the greatest of which is that most teachers claim it’s not aligned with what they teach.

How is that possible?

How is it possible that science teachers don’t implement climate change into their research units and lab experiments? How is it possible that writing teachers don’t assign essays on the impact changing temperatures are having on ecosystems around the planet? How is it possible that math teachers don’t incorporate cause and effect patterns and graphs and charts related to this topic into their lesson plans? And why aren’t social studies teachers discussing steps the government has or has not taken to help our planet? Or discussing how this and previous administrations have responded to national and global disasters?

Because here’s the hard truth: even though “human-caused climate change” is mentioned in at least 36 standards, that doesn’t mean all kids learn about it. In fact, NPR reports that only TWO STATES require students to take earth or environmental science to graduate high school.

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That’s a problem.

It seems ludicrous that global climate change isn’t a mandatory part of curricula across the board. However, as a former teacher, I get it. I know firsthand the pressures teachers have to cover all the subjects in a 7-hour day, prepare kids for pointless mandatory standardized tests, and deal with disciplinary issues and children with special needs across a wide spectrum.

It’s overwhelming, and damn near impossible for today’s teachers to fit in every topic, every lesson, every spelling test, every major historical event, and every mathematical concept as they also help mold their students in well-adjusted, kind, responsible citizens.

But this is big one.

Thankfully, NPR offered some quick and easy ways to slide global climate change into classroom lessons. From lab experiments to research papers to movies featuring well-known actors that might grab kids’ attention, there are a number of ways teachers can adjust their lessons to make sure their students know that our planet needs our help if we want future generations to enjoy it as much as we have.

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And putting this all on science teachers isn’t necessarily fair, as the topic of global climate change can be woven through most other subject areas as well. For example, Rebecca Meyer, an eighth-grade language arts teacher in NYC, taught her students a unit based around the novel Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis. And McGinnis tells NPR that students “researched current solutions for physical and economic water scarcity and created PSA videos using iMovie about the problem and how their solution could help to combat the issue.” They read a book about the importance of available, clean water, and now they care and know why it’s important.

A seventh-grade teacher in Honolulu named Terry Reed had his students collect water samples to test for microplastics, take pictures of cloud formations, and measure temperatures, all as part of a “citizen science” unit. Reed says he knows these kids will be voting in a few years and need to be educated about the state of our world before doing so.

Other ideas include service projects like implementing better recycling programs at school and home, and growing a garden to feed the community.

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Obviously super-cool hands-on science experiments like the ones sixth-grader Ellie Schaffer has done—such as trapping the sun’s heat with plastic wrap to study greenhouse effects, or using charcoal to see how black carbon from air pollution speeds up the melting of ice—are powerful and impactful.

But the topic of global climate change spans all curricula, not just science. Because at the end of the day, those kids come bouncing out of school and walk home through air that may be polluted, and drink water that may be unclean. All kids should know the impact their choices have on the future of this planet. They need to know about the rate at which ice caps are melting, and what that means for animals and their habitats. They need to know about the increase in natural disasters and rise in global temperatures and massive deforestation and illegal animal poaching. They need to know why these things might be happening, what they can do about it, and most importantly, why they should care.

We must mold our children into global citizens. At a young age, their world is small—they may not think outside the confines of their little town, or maybe even their cul-de-sac and local grocery store. But the truth is, the world outside is big. It is changing. And it needs their help.

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