What Do Your Kids Know About Climate Change?

A look at global warming curriculum in the Philadelphia School District.

By Lance Duroni
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 4 | Posted Apr. 13, 2010

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The past six months have seen something of a renaissance in climate-change skepticism. Hacked emails revealed climate scientists being less than forthright in response to freedom of information requests; the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admitted to errors in its report; and Al Gore, the punch line that can somehow instantly discredit the work of thousands of scientists worldwide, has been accused of profiteering in his advocacy of strong action to mitigate climate change.

These revelations, regardless of their merits or relative significance to the mountain of evidence pointing to a potentially dangerous human influence on climate, were probably on the minds of South Dakota legislators last month when they passed a resolution demanding a “balanced” approach to teaching global warming in the state’s public schools. If geriatric policy makers and silver-haired pundits want to dose themselves with spin before assessing the threat of climate change, so be it.

The kids, however, deserve an unbiased and apolitical introduction to the matter.

Here in the deepest-blue corner of a Democratic state, there is little to fear over this kind of right-wing legislative meddling. But Philadelphia-area schools might be just the sort of global-warming-alarmist indoctrination centers that the South Dakota resolution is trying to prevent.

There are few top-down science curriculum guidelines at the Philadelphia School District to draw from in assessing how climate change is taught. Test-prep guidelines for sixth, seventh and eighth grades all mention global warming in passing, with straightforward bullet points like “Explain the relationship between the greenhouse effect and global warming.”

Beyond this, how to teach climate change or whether to cover the subject at all is left entirely up to the teacher’s discretion.

Bob Herbstritt teaches Advanced Biology to juniors in the International Baccalaureate program at Bodine High School for International Affairs, in Northern Liberties, where he covers climate change in surprising depth.

“I show [my students] data indicating that the Earth has warmed and cooled many times in the geologic past … including the fact that 10 or 12 thousand years ago there was a glacier a mile high in Eastern Pa.,” Herbstritt says. “Obviously that wasn’t caused by anthropogenic pollution … and there is a lot of unknown here, but also the rate of change is very rapid right now.”

This leads Herbstritt to a discussion of the precautionary principle: the idea that when there are high levels of uncertainty on an issue—as there are on the specifics of how badly and when climate change will impact human societies—people should err on the side of caution.

The M.O. of climate-change skeptics is the inverse of this idea: Until scientists can provide a concrete picture of global warming’s impacts, nothing should be done that might have economic consequences.

Apart from this fundamental difference, Herbstritt’s unit covers much of what skeptics fear is not being taught to students: natural climatic variability throughout history, the inescapable uncertainty in science and even the wide range of computer-model projections for potential sea-level rise.

But Herbstritt also stresses those meddlesome strengths of the scientific establishment that skeptics would rather ignore.

“I try to get across the idea that [climate change science] is the result of a process that is pretty darn reliable,” he says. “When you submit peer-reviewed research, it’s looked at by your peers and 99 times out of 100 you are going to catch really serious errors.

Lauren Feldman, a communications professor at American University, sees merit in this kind of approach.

“One thing that could be effective that is in large part missing from school curricula is a science-literacy component—teaching kids how to interpret science and scientific policy information in media and how to make sense of it,” she says.

Feldman recently analyzed a survey conducted by George Mason University in conjunction with Yale University that suggests America’s youth aren’t on the same page with the scientific community. The results showed that only 54 percent of 18 to 22 year-olds believed that global warming is happening. Fifty percent also thought that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about the basics of the global-warming hypothesis.

Teachers at the private, girls-only Springside School, in Northwest Philly, say their climate-change curriculum leans closer to advocacy but still falls far short of hysteria.

“The debate is focused where it should be, not on whether climate change is a reality,” writes Scott Stein, head of the Science Department at Springside, in an email. “We try to help students become critical scientific decision-makers who don’t fall prey to political propaganda.”

But Springside science teacher Ellen Kruger revealed something that skeptics view as the ultimate in political propaganda: She shows her students Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and uses it as a framework for their studies on climate change.

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Comments 1 - 4 of 4
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1. Vince said... on Apr 14, 2010 at 04:05AM

“My kids know that it is a hoax, and part of a leftist agenda to tax and control. That so-called "scientists" doctored, manipulated, hid, deleted and plain made up data to prevent real scientists from verifying the data.

First rule of science, evidence must be verifiable in order to be scientific, which means EVERYTHING they have said is absolutely worthless. Remember, consensus is not science. (repeat to yourself)

Notice how they've started calling it "climate change"? Yes, that pretty much covers everything, and no embarrassing global warming explanations for why it snowed so much this winter.

Ellen Kruger the "science" teacher is not the brightest bulb for using a former politician's greed-motivated, non-scientific, mostly fiction, documentary to teach her students. Someone better check out her transcripts, I smell diploma mill. The sad thing is that those parent's are paying private school tuition for leftist garbage.”

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2. Ellen said... on Apr 14, 2010 at 09:25AM

“The snow this winter had little to do with climate change, and everything to do with El Nino. This is the difference between "climate" and "weather." Do some research.

Al Gore's movie is not perfect, and I will not argue that it is. However, aside from choosing the most pessimistic models and perhaps a little overdramatization (which may or may not have been politically driven), it's overarching message is sound. There is a consensus among the scientific community that climate change is occuring, is having detrimental affects on humans and widlife, and is caused by industrialization.

"Consensus does not mean science." That's not the most cogent statement I've ever read, but ok, I'll give you that. Data means science. And so does interpretation of that data. And a consensus about the correct interpretation of that data among a scientific community that also gave you bridges, nuclear fusion, and Tamiflu is a powerful reason to accept this evidence.”

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3. Vince said... on Apr 15, 2010 at 02:05AM

“Ellen, I agree that verifiable data means science, therefore you have validated my point. You can't interpret data, nor have a consensus on the interpretation of that data, if the data does not exist. The raw data was deleted to prevent peer review (Google it). Evidence must be verifiable in order to be scientific. If you can't verify the data and the results, there is no science.

With your El Nino statement you once again validate my opinion. Temperature fluctuations, too much snow, too little snow (same for rain) are driven by El Nino and La Nina events. That is exactly my point. However, it has not stopped Global Warming leftists from blaming too much/too little rain or snow on Global Warming (or Climate Change). It looks like you're the one who has to do a little research. Here's a small taste:


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4. Ellen said... on Apr 30, 2010 at 04:33PM

“Rather than relying on Google for your scientific evidence, why don't you try some peer reviewed journals? You will find thousands, even tens of thousands, of articles over the last twenty years with raw data clearly presented, repeatable, analyzed conservatively, and verified to your heart's content.

One pair of scientists tinkering with data does not an overthrow of sound scientific theory make. Did we throw out our ideas about DNA when the Korean scientist was found to have completely falsified his cloning claim? No.

If leftists have blamed too much rain or snow on climate change (and they have), can you not also admit that this winter an awful lot of "rightists" were using our huge snow as fodder for denying climate change? Neither side should be using micro-climate (aka "weather") events as evidence for their side of the argument. Climate is much more complex, widespread, and far-reaching than any one year's weather.”


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