A new poll shows the disconnect between how most people think climate change should be taught in schools — and how it usually isn’t.
NPR released the results of a new NPR/Ipsos poll on Earth Day, which show that more than 80% of parents and 86% of teachers in the US believe climate change should be taught in schools.
The sentiment is shared by not only parents and teachers, but by Democrats and Republicans. The majority of respondents from both political parties believe climate change should be taught, though the percentages are different — 81% of Democrats believe schools should teach about climate change and its impacts.
Only 49% of Republicans believe the same, with 17% believing “schools should teach that climate change exists, but not the potential impacts.”
Despite these beliefs, more than half of the teachers surveyed say they don’t cover climate change or talk about it. And less than half of parents (45%) surveyed said they ever discussed climate change with their own kids.
Among teachers surveyed, 65% said climate change is “outside their subject area.” The poll asked teachers to rank the importance of climate change and found “it fell to near the bottom of a list of priorities for expanding the curriculum, behind science and math, basic literacy and financial education.”
Other obstacles cited by teachers in not teaching climate change were a lack of materials, and a lack of knowledge about the subject. And 4% of teachers said their schools didn’t allow it to be taught. Some teachers noted the subject could be divisive, and there can be “difficulty in dealing with students whose parents are deniers of climate change.”
While 36 total states “currently recognize human-caused climate change somewhere in their state standards,” but that doesn’t guarantee it’s being taught. A number of states have also introduced bills that would restrict climate teaching, though many have been tabled or failed to pass into law.
These are fitting poll results to release on Earth Day, illustrating the gap between an environmental issue and the need to increase awareness and knowledge of that issue.
NPR’s summary of the poll results rightly points out that teachers are “underresourced and overworked,” but notes that teachers who do teach climate change find ways to approach the topic in a number of subjects. Climate change can fit into many subject areas — some require more creativity than others. The hope is this type of story acts as a wake-up call for those who design academic curriculums.
If the long-running youth climate protests have shown us anything, it’s that plenty of kids already know what’s at stake. But some added insight from the adults in their world would certainly be a positive.
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