On Earth Day 2019
A new poll from NPR on teaching climate change shows support for that teaching across the board.
More than 80% of parents in the U.S. support the teaching of climate change. And that support crosses political divides, according to the results of an exclusive new NPR/Ipsos poll: Whether they have children or not, two-thirds of Republicans and 9 in 10 Democrats agree that the subject needs to be taught in school.
A separate poll of teachers found that they are even more supportive, in theory — 86% agree that climate change should be taught.
And yet, as millions of students around the globe participate in Earth Day events on Monday, our poll also found a disconnect. Although most states have classroom standards that at least mention human-caused climate change, most teachers aren't actually talking about climate change in their classrooms. And fewer than half of parents have discussed the issue with their children.
Just 45% of parents said they had ever discussed the topic with their own children.
About 3 in 4 respondents in our nationally representative survey of 1,007 Americans agreed that the climate is changing. That figure is in line with previous results from Ipsos and other polls.Parents, do you talk to your kids about this issue beyond, say, recycling?
A plurality of all parents support starting those lessons as early as elementary school. And though it may be a controversial subject, 65% of those who thought climate change should be taught didn't think parental permission was necessary. Among Republicans, the corresponding figure was 57%.
What about teachers?
In fact, 86% of teachers believe climate change should be taught in schools. In theory.
But in practice, it's more complicated. More than half — 55% — of teachers we surveyed said they do not cover climate change in their own classrooms or even talk to their students about it.
The most common reason given? Nearly two-thirds (65%) said it's outside their subject area.
For example, almost a third of all teachers say that when it comes to teaching climate change, they worry about parent complaints.
In our poll, teachers who do not teach the subject were allowed to choose more than one reason. They named many obstacles.About States
Moreover, there also seems to be a divide in terms of resources, attitudes and support between teachers who cover climate change in their classrooms and those who don't.
- 17% say they don't have the materials.
- 17% also say they don't know enough about the subject to teach it.
- 4% say their school does not allow the subject to be taught.
Since 2013, 19 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, created by a consortium of states and science authorities to strengthen the teaching of science. The standards instruct teachers to cover the facts of human-caused climate change beginning in middle school.What About the Kids?
Others — including in Arizona, Maine, South Dakota and Virginia — would prohibit the teaching of any issue included in a state political party platform, on the grounds of anti-indoctrination. Florida's bill prescribes "balanced" teaching for "controversial" science subjects.
NPR Ed found in an analysis that in just one semester, the fall of 2017, for example, 9 million U.S. students across nine states and Puerto Rico missed some amount of school owing to natural disasters — which scientists say are becoming more frequent and severe because of climate change.
The Schools for Climate Action Summit in Washington, D.C., in March, was instigated by students in Northern California whose communities were ravaged by wildfires. They also brought together students affected by Hurricane Harvey in Houston and by agricultural droughts on tribal lands in New Mexico to lobby at the Capitol.