So how—and what—are kids learning about climate change? Well, a survey published in the journal Science earlier this year revealed that students might not be taking home all that much from school. In fact, most science teachers spend just an hour or two on the subject every year.
But making climate change a classroom priority doesn’t always win you fans. Craig Whipkey works the subject into his science curriculum at Central Valley High School northwest of Pittsburgh and says he gets called things like “tree hugger” a lot.
“I had a student come up to me, and the young lady informed me that her dad was coming to pick her up, and [asked me], ‘Would I mind going somewhere else?’ because her dad didn’t like me very much.”
Whipkey’s gotten used to it. Nearly 10 years ago, when he started teaching high school science, he trained with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. He brought what he was learning about climate science back to his students, who in turn, started taking it home. One parent, a leader in the local Republican Party, even wrote an editorial in the Beaver County Times complaining about Whipkey.
That’s when higher-ups within the Central Valley School District took notice and called him in to review his lesson plans.
“I was a second-year teacher, I was teaching a brand new course, and the administration wanted to look at my materials,” he says. “Absolutely, I was sweating.”
Other Pennsylvania science teachers have also been challenged for teaching about climate change. Many times, the issue has boiled over when a district is ordering new textbooks. Just last month, school board members in the Quakertown Community School District, near Philadelphia, refused to order the environmental science and oceanography books requested by the district’s administration. The board didn’t like that students would be taught climate change as a scientific fact. Those board members declined to comment for this story.
It was a similar story in Saucon Valley School District, south of Allentown. Bryan Eichfeld, a school board member there, calls climate change a hoax and a political issue. He wants textbooks that provide competing views.