One State Now Mandating That Its Schools Teach Lessons About Climate Change?

Oregon lawmakers plan to introduce compulsory climate change classes for public school students.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

climate change

Oregon lawmakers plan to introduce compulsory climate change classes for public school students. Most educators and parents are on board with the idea, saying it could help the next generation find solutions to the global environmental problem. Dozens of the state’s high school learners support the bill as the issue is very important to them.

However, others want schools to focus on more practical skills like reading, writing, and math. Test scores in these subjects plummeted following the pandemic. In a statement via the Associated Press, Senator James Manning said elementary students have also expressed an interest in learning about the effects of climate change.

“We’re talking about third and fourth graders having the vision to understand how the world is changing,” he said during the state Capitol hearing last week. At present, Connecticut is the only U.S. state with laws in place that require climate change instruction. Government officials in California and New York are considering similar bills.

Manning’s proposed bill requires every school district in Oregon to develop a curriculum within three years. The content will be required to address various aspects of climate change, such as ecological, societal, cultural, political, and mental health. But it remains unclear how the state would enforce the new law.

However, the vastly unpopular proposal for financial penalties against non-complying districts will be scrapped. And Manning didn’t specify if a different plan was in the works. Additionally, the climate change bill doesn’t indicate how many hours of instruction will be required for the education department to approve a curriculum, the Associated Press reports.

Most schools have learning standards set by local education boards. While their learning material does incorporate climate change, the extent varies in each state. Approximately 20 states and Washington, D.C, have adopted Next Generation Science Standards. It means that middle and high school children will receive lessons about climate science in varying scopes and intensities.

New Jersey schools have the broadest range of climate change studies as the topic is covered in subjects like Art, English, Physical Education, and Science. Meanwhile, several teenagers testified in favor of the Oregon education bill, with none opposed to the idea. “In 100 years are we going to have to teach our children what trees are because there aren’t any left?” sophomore Gabriel Burke said.

Burke added that her generation “needs to learn about climate change from a young age to survive,” the Associated Press reports. Although most teachers testified in support of the bill, they are still addressing pandemic-related learning issues. Adding a new syllabus to their strained workload would be too much to handle.

Interestingly, a survey conducted by the Teachers College at Columbia University and the Yale Program on Climate Communication found that most Americans believe climate change and global warming should be taught at schools. But since the topic is seen as politically divisive, mandating its inclusion could cause more tension within the education system.

Schools across the United States have been embroiled in various curriculum battles, including how sex education, gender, and race should be taught. Adding climate change to the mix would be another thing for people to argue over.