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Climate in the classroom

Alicia Newton

According to New Scientist, South Dakota has now joined Louisiana and Texas in requiring ‘debate’ over various scientific tenets in schools. In 2008, Louisiana led the way in requiring a critical discussion of climate, evolution and human cloning as part of the state’s science curriculum.

Superficially, any educational standard that promotes critical thinking might be a welcome change from the focus on passing standardized tests ushered in by No Child Left Behind Act. But, at least in terms of the discussion of evolution, these bills seem to be more a measure to slip non-science based ideas into science classrooms. And given the widespread prevalence of anti-global warming myths and urban legends, it’s worth taking a closer look at just who will be leading the climate debate.

Climate science is often a middle school discipline, and as such taught by teachers who may or may not have a strong science background (this varies by state and even by school district). The question then becomes will the required ‘debate’ be based in science? This is by no means an indictment of school science teachers, who often have to achieve steep goals with few resources and even less support. But if various groups of scientists are still, for example, debating the role of solar activity in climate change , it seems unlikely that any but the most dedicated teacher would be able to unravel the complexities of climate forcings.

Sadly, the article points out that while similar laws regarding evolution have been successfully challenged on constitutional grounds (as in Pennsylvania), there is nothing barring scientific misconceptions from the classroom.


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    Josh Rosenau said:

    I did a more detailed look at the South Dakota bill here:

    The Texas language requires students to “analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming.”

    The Louisiana bill (like others proposed in various states) tosses global warming in with evolution and human cloning as supposedly controversial scientific topics and allows teachers to deviate from the textbook and established curriculum to introduce dissenting views, with no provision for ensuring the scientific quality of supplements. So you could wind up with creationist pamphlets or nonsense like the Great Global Warming Swindle being shown in the classroom.

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    Alicia Newton said:

    Good spot Bishop Hill! I’ve corrected the spelling in the original post.

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    Ryan said:

    I know the interest here is mostly in climate, but can someone explain the human cloning thing to me?

    In the cases of evolution and climate change, the supposed controversy is over whether or not the phenomenon actually exists as explained by mainstream science.

    But this can’t possibly be the case with cloning, right? Is anyone questioning whether cloning is real? If the debate is over whether or not cloning is a good idea, then I can see nothing wrong with that.

    Climate change includes a host of value-based debates along these lines. For example, is geo-engineering a good idea?

    I’ve been involved in putting together a “science and society” course at the high school level which deals with these kinds of questions, and it has been a great success with the students.

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