Attempts to rein in climate change education draw backlash
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Attempts to rein in climate change education draw backlash

JUDY WOODRUFF: The politically climate change
is increasingly spreading to the classroom. At issue, how and whether to teach it, including
the scientific consensus about the role of human activity. It is a debate playing out in states adopting
new science standards, including in Idaho, where a key vote could come this week. Special correspondent Lisa Stark, of our partner
Education Week, reports from Boise. It’s for our weekly segment, Making the Grade. WOMAN: What is Clay? STUDENTS: The Earth. LISA STARK: These Boise second graders are
playing an unusual game of tag. WOMAN: On your marks, set, go! LISA STARK: They’re pretending to be sunlight. Once they reach Earth, they turn into heat. Some bounce back. Others are tagged and trapped by students
masquerading as greenhouse gases. MAN: Look at all my greenhouse gases. WOMAN: Look at that, all right. LISA STARK: The idea is to help students understand
global warming. STUDENT: The Earth is actually warming up. WOMAN: So the more greenhouse gases we add
to the atmosphere, what happens to the temperature of the Earth? Yes. STUDENT: It gets hotter. WOMAN: It gets hotter. LISA STARK: What is climate change? What did you learn about that when you were
outside playing tag? KARSON BENNETT, Student: It’s when people
put more carbon dioxide in the air, and it makes it warmer. LISA STARK: Boise State University Professor
Jennifer Pierce offers this lesson on climate change to elementary school classes. JEN PIERCE, Department of Geosciences, Boise
State University: I think it’s my obligation as a scientist and as an educator and as a
parent to teach our kids about how the greenhouse effect works, how humans and fossil fuels
have contributed to the warming of our planet, and what we can do about it. LISA STARK: Pierce crafted these lessons after
becoming alarmed when Idaho’s Republican-dominated legislature moved to soften proposed state
science standards to play down the role of humans in climate change. Well, the legislature seems to think that,
you know, you need to present both sides of the issue, that you need to be even-handed. JEN PIERCE: There aren’t two sides of the
issue. The global warming is happening, and humans
are the cause. There’s not another side of the issue. WOMAN: We’d like to call the House Education
Committee to order. LISA STARK: The fight over new Idaho science
standards for grades kindergarten through 12 has now dragged on for three years. You are on the committee that drafted these
standards, and redrafted these standards and redrafted these standards. MELYSSA FERRO, Teacher: Yes. LISA STARK: What was the problem? Melyssa Ferro, an award-winning Idaho science
teacher, believes lawmakers have tried to dismantle the group’s hard work for political
showmanship. MELYSSA FERRO: The big concern here is, people
think we’re trying to sneak something by them, we’re trying to indoctrinate the children
of Idaho into concepts that go against the moral or religious beliefs of the citizens. But I would argue that the science is sound
in these standards. LISA STARK: Last year, lawmakers temporarily
approved the standards, but removed five sections on climate change, including one that emphasized
— quote — “the major role that human activities play in causing the rise in global temperatures.” Lawmakers asked for a rewrite. Representative Ryan Kirby supported that,
saying students were being force fed one-sided arguments. RYAN KIRBY (R), Idaho State Representative:
They just said, man has X, Y, Z impact on the environment, or these things are bad,
vs. saying, hey, students, look at the data, do some research, and let’s talk about the
good things and the bad things that man do to the environment. LISA STARK: The public has overwhelmingly
disagreed. WOMAN: Science education shouldn’t be a political
issue. MAN: Not some watered-down, censored version. WOMAN: I ask that we not only keep the standards,
but that we appreciate and accept all that they have to offer. LISA STARK: That didn’t sway the Idaho House
Education Committee, which this month voted again, this time deleting one science standard
that linked air pollution with fossil fuels, and scrapping pages and pages of content that
backed up every area of science instruction, including global warming. WOMAN: The motion passes. Thank you. LISA STARK: Representative Scott Syme led
the charge, saying he was deleting sections that didn’t allow students to do their own
scientific discovery. SCOTT SYME (R), Idaho State Representative:
When you have conclusions in standards, it stifles inquiry. What we’re going to see is, we’re going to
be developing scientists, kids that can think on their own, that come to their conclusions. LISA STARK: Syme refused repeated requests
for an interview, but told a newspaper — quote — “I don’t care if students come up with
a conclusion that the Earth is flat, as long as it’s their conclusion, not something that’s
told to them.” The debate over teaching climate change is
hardly limited to Idaho. There have been a number of states, as they
have been revising their science standards, where this has also become a hot-button issue. New Mexico’s attempt last fall to weaken climate
change instruction generated protests and fierce backlash. WOMAN: The children, the future of New Mexico,
deserve better. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) LISA STARK: Ultimately, the state Department
of Education backed down. Recent attempts, in at least nine states,
to block, repeal or modify state science standards, partly because of the treatment of climate
change, have largely failed. All this comes during a government administration
skeptical about global warming. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord. DAVID EVANS, Executive Director, National
Science Teachers Association: In the case of climate change, of course, there’s been
many really concerted efforts to kind of deny the science. LISA STARK: David Evans is the executive director
of the National Science Teachers Association. DAVID EVANS: When a legislative body decides
to recommend against science content that’s been well-vetted by the science community
and the education community, we undergo a great risk in denying our children really
important information that they are going to need. MAN: Each of these is a type of resource. See if you can decide if it’s renewable or
nonrenewable. LISA STARK: The Boise School District isn’t
waiting for the state to act. There’s local control of education in Idaho,
and this district is teaching climate science. JAYDEN REHALT, Student: I know that global
warming, even if it’s not caused by humans, it’s always happening with like — our Earth
is warming up slowly. JAINEE SMITH, Student: I don’t generally think
of, oh, yes, climate and change, global warming, like, yes, I could change that, I could do
that. I feel like that’s something that everyone
would have to come to, not just one person. LISA STARK: Science teacher Nathan Dean says,
in more rural, conservative parts of Idaho, global warming will only be taught if it’s
required by the state. NATHAN DEAN, Teacher: I feel like we would
be really remiss to say that we’re preparing kids in science education and science literacy
if they aren’t aware of global warming and climate change and the science behind that. LISA STARK: Dean bristles at what’s been happening
in the state legislature. NATHAN DEAN: I think that it would be kind
of educational malpractice to pretend that there’s two sides to that scientific argument. LISA STARK: Representative Kirby says he’s
not opposed to teaching global warming, as long as kids figure out the causes based on
their own research. RYAN KIRBY: We really want the students to
protect our environment, to protect our planet, but we want them thinking, not being spoon-fed. LISA STARK: Back in that second grade Boise
classroom, students are figuring out ways to help protect the environment. RYDER PAZDAN, Student: If you want to go to
the zoo, you should — you don’t need to drive. You can, like, bike there. STEVI GUNN, Student: It’s basically a cooling
vest, so, like, whenever it’s too hot, you can put on the cooling vest. LISA STARK: So far, though, there’s no indication
anyone is cooling off in Idaho. It’s now up to the Senate Education Committee
to decide whether to go along with their House colleagues or leave the science standards
intact. The vote is expected as early as this week. For the “PBS NewsHour” and Education Week,
I’m Lisa Stark in Boise, Idaho.

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