19 January 2023

Miseducation: How climate change is taught in America, by Katie Worth

Posted by Callan Bentley

cover of the bookA quick read through a disheartening topic: journalist Katie Worth reports on the state of climate change education in the United States. There’s good news and there’s bad news in this slim volume. First, it’ll be no surprise to hear that many talented, dedicated educators are working hard to incorporate scientific thinking about climate into their teaching. They are inspiring! Worth briefly profiles a handful of these exemplary teachers, and documents some of the challenges they have faced. Second, unfortunately there are many challenges. That’s the bad news – Moneyed interests have successfully conflated climate science, evolutionary biology, and sometimes ‘science in general’ with anti-American ideas or blasphemous motivations. They have successfully worked to establish a sense of doubt, if not outright disbelief and hostility, in children educated in our public schools. I found it refreshing that Worth frames the various forces at work as manifesting in a stark inequity between science education in well-funded schools in states with liberal politics and poorly-funded schools in red states*. It’s not fair to the children of Oklahoma that they are deprived of clear messaging about the true state of climate science. We are familiar with the nation’s various inequities, for instance in wealth. But Worth makes the case that we have also fostered a system where there are inequities in comprehension of reality. She reviews the critical role that state teaching standards play, as well as how commercial textbook companies muddy the waters in their attempts to kowtow to states which make textbook adoption decisions on the state level. She examines efforts by fossil fuel companies and conservative think tanks to provide misinformation to public school teachers and students, often by the same individuals who made names for themselves in the tobacco health crisis misinformation campaign of previous decades. She closes with an anecdote that is just gutting – some of the children who are being catastrophically impacted by climate change can’t even connect the dots to realize its reality is their reality. Grim.

* Wyoming bucks this trend in a clear and decisive way, and one of the chief complaints I have about Miseducation is that it doesn’t delve into why. This “exception to the rule” might be really insightful, but unfortunately Worth merely sweeps it under the rug as an anomaly.