Climate Change in the Classroom?

A city councilman pushes to include climate science in the K-12 curriculum.

City Council Member Costa Constantinides is sponsoring a resolution that would integrate climate change into the K-12 curriculum.  (Photo courtesy of Costa Constantinides' Flickr).

City Council Member Costa Constantinides is sponsoring a resolution that would integrate climate change into the K-12 curriculum. (Photo courtesy of Costa Constantinides’ Flickr).

Kindergarten through twelfth-grade students across the state could be learning about climate change in classrooms in coming years if an upcoming resolution passes a hearing and a vote.

City Council Member Costa Constantinides is leading a resolution to make it mandatory for climate change to be included in K-12 education in New York. He and supporters from Global Kids met on the front steps of Manhattan’s city hall April 22 to raise awareness of their effort.

“We must help our children understand how carbon emissions impact climate change, as well as how the risks of climate change impacts everything from our national security to our global economy,” said a release from Constantinides’ office read. “Climate Change can’t be reduced to a mere bullet point on a science syllabus—it has to be a standalone lesson in itself.”

A government push about curriculum is somewhat unusual, though educators contacted by new york city lens seemed to think it was a good idea. [ok? that it? we need to get to the (mild) controversy sooner]ncluding effects on agriculture, national security, and economies. 

The resolution currently has 23 sponsors, as well as community support from Global Kids, an organization that helps children in under-served communities become involved in their communities. “A lot of our students live in frontline communities where climate change has already affected them,” said Caroline Harting, director of communications at Global Kids.

Global Kids began efforts in 2011 to petition for climate change lessons to be included in K-12 curriculum, pairing with Constantinides in 2014. They currently have 2,046 supporters for their petition to pass the resolution.

A government official pushing for a topic to be included in school curriculum is fairly unusual, said Jennifer Saltzman, director of outreach education at Stanford University’s school of earth, energy, andenvironmental sciences. Usually school boards are the proponents of curriculum changes.

Climate change, she points out, is highly politicized. Still, she believes integrating climate change into the curriculum is necessary.

“We know are students are not blank slates when they walk into the classroom,” Saltzman said. “They come from homes and communities and have heard of this thing called climate change. For some that means they want to learn more, and for others it means they don’t believe anything and may lose their faith in all science.”

Integrating material on climate change the misinformation on the topic, said O. Roger Anderson, professor of natural sciences at Columbia University’s teacher’s college.

“I think that our public is not getting sufficient scientifically accurate info from the media and other sources,” Anderson said. “And the schools have an obligation to better inform our students, help them think critically about the climate change issues.”

Anderson does not recommend an entirely separate unit for climate change, but for the topic to be addressed where relevant in other areas like economics and social sciences. “I think it’s more effective for students to see this in context than just interspersed in their curriculum,” he said. He also recommends that if the legislation passes, lawmakers suggest ways to incorporate it into the curriculum, since the schools are already pressed thin to include other areas.

Currently there is no hearing date set for the resolution.


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