Global warming in the classroom When political viewpoints collide, science must take a seat in the back.
There is a bubbling controversy about how to teach “manmade global warming” in the classroom. Is it a scientific certainty about which there can be no dispute? Or is it a theory about which people with differing viewpoints can have a legitimate debate?
Let’s check in and see how The Associated Press reports on the issue: “The struggle over what American students learn about global warming is heating up as conservative lawmakers, climate change doubters and others attempt to push rejected or debunked theories into the classroom.”
Wow. Not much doubt about where the AP stands. You toe the line on “scientific consensus” or you’re one of those awful conservative doubters trying to push rejected bunk into the classroom.
Of course it’s nowhere near that simple.
Schools are on firm footing with the majority of their teachings because they deal either with events that have happened or are happening (history, current events) or facts that have stood the tests of time and rigorous inquiry (mathematical formulas, geographical contours, scientific forces). These things can be imparted with certainty.
At the other end of the spectrum are those things about which there are as many opinions as there are human beings, including the “social studies” of sociology, psychology and politics. These need to be passed along with an understanding of human frailties and uncertainties.
Manmade global warming – or, to use the currently favored term, “anthropogenic climate change” – falls somewhere between those two extremes. There is a consensus that warming exists and that humankind contributes to it. But what percentage is the human contribution? What will the effects exactly be? What should be done?
The answers to the questions aren’t clear, but – and here’s the big problem – politicians and, now, educators, think the solution is obvious: Dramatic intervention by a powerful state that mandates drastic action from everybody. That’s not science. That’s politics in the extreme.
Alas, some states’ solutions are less than ideal. Indiana, for example, has passed an “academic freedom” resolution giving teachers great latitude in how they help students “analyze and critique scientific theories.” That’s almost an invitation to teach flat-Earth-theory mumbo jumbo and Earth-is-the-center-of-the-universe nonsense.
But extremism breeds extremism, so now we’re getting politics from both sides, which means science gets a seat in the back of the class.