We live in an age where entrenched political ideologists classify and vilify real-world issues like climate change and cultural inclusion as ‘Democratic’ or left-wing issues when in fact, the culprit in lies not in political differences, but in curriculum ideologies.
For ages, educators have disagreed over curriculum – what should be taught, how it should be taught, and which teaching method yields the most value for students. The fathers of adult-learning theory, philosophical greats like Dewey, Thornton, and Knowles rooted learning in a social and educational outcome with the clear intent of preparing adults to succeed in a democratic society. In other words, they believed curriculum should be taught from inside a social context. Dewey wrote, “I believe that this education process has two sides – one psychological and one sociological; and that neither can be subordinated to the other nor neglected with evil results following” (1897, p. 4) Social and educational philosophers argued that teaching information and skills should ultimately prepare students to be successful in a democratic society. If information taught didn’t include the social context, it was useless. Philosophers like Pablo Freire (1970), George S. Count (1932), and Schiro (2013) believed that learner-centered curriculum should address social inequity. Over the years, large-scale research studies supported the efficacy of these arguments, proving that adult learners master information more effectively when it is connected to real-world scenarios and builds upon prior knowledge. However, the war battles over what should be taught make it easy to lose sight of the sheer value of following an educational approach proven to work.
In a July 16th Washington Post article on the overwhelming number of DC public school teachers resigning, public school teachers complained of the constant opposition of parents to books taught, questioning the value of what and how they are teaching. One could argue that these conflicting disagreements could stimulate progress in developing a powerful, blended curriculum. However, in some cases, the opposite may well be happening. According to The President of the Fairfax Education Association teachers group in Northern Virginia Kimberly Adams, “teachers are also leaving because they tire of the ongoing debates over how American schools should teach about race, racism, U.S. history, gender identity and sexual orientation.” She mentioned the push across the country from parents who want more control over the curriculum, and lesson plans. Many showing up frequently at school board meetings to complain in numbers, not seen before.
Imagine if the opposite happened. What if teachers felt empowered to create assignments, encouraging students to develop a strong personal connection to climate issues in their communities, as well as gave them the instructional support to propose solutions? Students might learn they can make changes. Their subsequent behavior, their future decision-making ability may reduce their overall lifetime carbon footprint. Consider the power of educating 132 million women in the developing world on climate change. By 2050, research suggests that these knowledgeable women would lead to a 85 gigaton reduction of carbon dioxide in the world. Ultimately, research proves education on climate change beats increasing investments in solar solutions (19 gigaton reduction), wind turbines (47 gigaton reduction), etc. hands-down.
While one may think climate change is a rich person’s issue, it simply isn’t. Minority, poor, and underrepresented populations are most affected by its impact. Consider the one million US schoolchildren displaced during California’s wildfire season in 2018 and the flood zones across the US which affect more than 6,000 US schools. Over recent years, ever-worsening floods and hurricanes attack our poorest countries because of global warming.
Ironically, we see businesses at the forefront of the movement, acting as they see the effects of climate change on their pocketbooks – deficits from the supply chain causing labor challenges and higher insurance costs. Many businesses now find a practical reason to align their organization’s culture and brand identity to ‘green teaching.’ Similarly, more than 86 percent of US teachers agree that climate change should be taught but see it as a topic outside of their subject area and don’t know where to start. Below I’ve assembled a few resources to help:
o Education International
o Climate Generation’s Teach Climate Network
o National Geographic’s Educator Community
o Smithsonian Science Education Center
o Green Ninja
o Office for Climate Education
o TROP ICSU
For additional support on incorporating climate change and/or cultural inclusion into your curriculum, please contact Dr. Lee Taylor-Nelms, firstname.lastname@example.org