Jan 29 5:30 PM

Battle over climate science curriculum heats up

Classrooms across the country await an update of their science curriculum that includes the study of global warming.
Barrie Fanton / UIG / Getty Images

A fierce debate is raging in West Virginia over a new set of science standards for public schools that would acknowledge climate change as real and man-made.

Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards — the first curriculum update in nearly 20 years — but West Virginia’s school board went the opposite direction, approving amendments that would have raised doubt about climate change, Inside Climate News reported Thursday.

Teachers and parents hit back, protesting the decision. In response, the board voted on Jan. 14 to reverse the revisions and hold a new vote on adopting the standards after a period of public comment.

The battle in some ways parallels a similar debate in the U.S. Senate, which last week finally agreed that climate change is “not a hoax.” The decision stopped short of naming the cause — though some senators, like the new chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe, R-Okla., blamed God.

“Man can’t change climate,” Inhofe told the Senate this month.

But in states like West Virginia, where the economy is heavily dependent on the coal industry, acknowledging the human role in global warming is seen as a threat. Other states, such as Kentucky, Michigan and South Carolina, where conservatives were elected to state government with the help of traditional energy industry money, have also seen lawmakers intervene to prevent adoption of the new science standards. Utah and Alabama are soon to debate the standards, as are Florida and New York. Texas, which has resisted adopting common core standards for English and math, has already rejected the updated science curriculum.

So, what’s so controversial about the Next Generation Science Standards?

NextGen, which applies to primary and secondary schools, encourages students to ask questions about the causes of climate change. Kindergarteners would make observations about the effects of sunlight on Earth, and design a structure that would reduce the warming effect, according to a copy of the standards on the West Virginia School Board’s website [PDF]. By middle school, students would seek to determine the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century, and discuss technologies to tackle the resulting changes. High schoolers would evaluate the environmental and economic advantages and disadvantages of using nonrenewable and renewable energy.

But if some of the country’s most senior elected leaders can’t acknowledge anthropogenic climate change, where does that leave school boards, teachers and, most importantly, students? With over 99 percent of experts in agreement about the science right now, today, it is the children who will have to live with the repercussions of global warming throughout their many tomorrows.

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