Public Release: 

Teachers' knowledge and values can hinder climate education

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Most U.S. science teachers include climate science in their courses, yet political inclinations and insufficient grasp of the science may be hindering the quality of their teaching, authors of this Education Forum say. Although more than 95% of climate scientists attribute recent global warming to human causes, only about half of U.S. adults believe that human activity is the predominant cause -- the lowest percentage among 20 nations polled in 2014. Yet prior surveys suggest that climate change is taught in the classroom, prompting Eric Plutzer et al. to explore the quality of these teachings in greater detail. Based on a large survey of 1,500 teachers in middle- and high-school, they found that 30% of teachers emphasize that recent global warming "is likely due to natural causes," and 12% do not emphasize human causes at all. Plutzer et al. explore the reasons behind this. It doesn't seem to be parents or administrators, as very few teachers reported external pressure not to teach climate change. They propose that teachers may not be very knowledgeable about scientific evidence, for example about carbon dioxide measurements from ice cores. As well, the authors propose that many teachers are unaware of the extent of scientific agreement. This notion is supported by their survey results; when asked "What proportion of climate scientists think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities?" only 30% of middle-school and 45% of high-school science teachers selected the correct option of "81 to 100%". The authors also note that a question measuring political ideology was a more powerful predictor of a teacher's classroom approach than any measure of education or content knowledge. Therefore, education efforts will need to draw on science communication research and address the root causes of resistance to science, the authors conclude.


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