Attacks on Science Education Intensify: “There Seems To Be a Lynch-Mob Hate Against Any Teacher Trying to Teach Climate Change”

— Chris Mooney, in a DeSmogBlog cross-post

A few months back, those who care about accurate climate science and energy education in high school classes registered a minor victory. Under fire from outlets like The New York Times, the education publishing behemoth Scholastic (of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Harry Potter fame) pulled an energy curriculum sponsored by the American Coal Foundation, which gave a nice PR sheen to coal without bothering to cover, uh, the whole environmental angle. The curriculum had reportedly already been mailed to 66,000 classrooms by the time it got yanked.

When it comes to undermining accurate and responsible climate and energy education at the high school level, Scholastic may have been the most prominent transgressor. But precisely because it is a massive and respected educational publisher, and actually cares what The New York Times thinks, it was also the most moderate and easy to reason with.

Although it’s hard to find online now, I’ve reviewed the offending coal curriculum, entitled “The United States of Energy.” In my view, it didn’t even contain any obvious falsehoods—except for errors of omission. It was more a case of subtle greenwashing.

What’s currently seeping into classrooms across the country is far, far worse—more ideological, and more difficult to stop. We’re talking about outright climate denial being fed to students—and accurate climate science teaching being attacked by aggressive Tea Party-style ideologues.

Science magazine just released a report on the state of affairs out there in this place called America, and it’s ugly. From the piece:

“It’s very difficult when we, as science teachers, are just trying to present scientific facts,” says Kathryn Currie, head of the [Los Alamitos High School’s] science department. And science educators around the country say such attacks are becoming all too familiar. They see climate science now joining evolution as an inviting target for those who accuse “liberal” teachers of forcing their “beliefs” upon a captive audience of impressionable children.

“Evolution is still the big one, but climate change is catching up,” says Roberta Johnson, executive director of the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) in Boulder, Colorado. An informal survey this spring of 800 NESTA members found that climate change was second only to evolution in triggering protests from parents and school administrators. One teacher reported being told by school administrators not to teach climate change after a parent threatened to come to class and make a scene. Online message boards for science teachers tell similar tales…

There seems to be a lynch-mob hate against any teacher trying to teach climate change,” says Andrew Milbauer, an environmental sciences teacher at Conserve School, a private boarding school in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin.

Milbauer felt that wrath after receiving an invitation to participate in a public debate about climate change. The event, put on last year by Tea Party activists, proposed to pit high school teachers against professors and climate change deniers David Legates and Willie Soon in front of students from 200 high schools. Organizers said the format was designed “to expand knowledge of the global warming debate to the youth of our state.” When Milbauer and his colleagues declined to participate, organizer Kim Simac complained to the local papers about their “suspicious” behavior. Milbauer corresponded for a time on the organization’s blog until Simac wrote that Milbauer, “in his role as science teacher, is passing on to our youth this monstrous hoax as being the gospel truth.”

How to fight this?

That’s very difficult because, as the Science piece notes, you can’t use the First Amendment. It only bans teaching religion in classrooms, and it is hard to claim that climate change denial—unlike evolution denial—is fundamentally religious in nature. I wouldn’t want to have to argue that case in court.

But while not religiously impelled in a traditional sense, the conservative activists who are attacking the teaching of climate science at the grassroots do fit a familiar profile. We’ve gotten to know them very well by now.

They are hierarchical in outlook, and tend to deny all manner of environmental risks. They often believe that climate science is part of a global conspiracy to impose a statist economy. And of course, they are often conservative white men like Jeffrey Barke, the Los Alamitos Unified School District board of education member who has placed this school at the center of attacks on accurate climate science teaching.

These people are nothing if not highly politicized and emotional. Here’s Barke in his own words:

“Most teachers are left to center, and if we leave it to teachers to impose their liberal views, then it would make for an unbalanced lesson,” Barke said. “Some people believe that global warming is a crock of crap, and others are zealots.”

What is the case for not letting people like Barke influence young students?

Simple: When a political fight erupts at a school over the teaching science, students are effectively being taught to tie science together with emotional, politicized reasoning processes–the way the adults who are interefering in the curriculum have already done in their own minds.

That’s precisely the opposite of what we want to be instilling in young brains. Students ought to be learning to think critically, to be dispassionate and apportion their beliefs to the evidence.

Attacks on climate science in schools aren’t just interferences with teaching, then. By supplying teenagers with politicized misinformation, you’re prepping them to have the kinds of emotionally driven argumentative responses that make our public discourse at the national level so fruitless.

You’re not just instilling denial. You’re creating the next generation of political dysfunction.

You’re not teaching kids to think, you’re teaching them to shout.

Chris is Washington correspondent for Seed magazine, senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and author of the bestselling book The Republican War on Science, dubbed “a landmark in contemporary political reporting” by and a “well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing’s assault on science and scientists” by Scientific American.


Below are old comments from the earlier Facebook commenting system:

  • mtmariner101 (signed in using Yahoo)

An educated and informed electorate is anathema to fundamental Republican strategy. They want their lies to go unquestioned and unchallenged. It shows up not only in science but also history and literature. Republicans need public discourse to be fruitless. They are depending on ideological shouting matches that are divorced from truth and reason.

19 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 1:50pm

Marlene Bomer · Top Commenter · N. Baltimore

All one has to do is go back and look at the bully tactics during the town halls regarding heath care reform debate.

Orchestrated by the Koch boys, Big Pharma, and the insurance giants (with a little help from Karl Rove, IIRC!), the right wing brilliantly egged on supposedly intelligent adults to slit their own throats when it comes time for them to need treatment.

5 · Like · Reply · August 12 at 5:36am

Bart Laws · Top Commenter · Assistant Professor at Brown University

The right in this country is on a crusade (word selection appropriate) to reverse the Enlightenment. I think somebody here recently said they want to take us back to the 19th Century. Nope. The 11th. They want us all to crawl back into the darkness.

13 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 1:05pm

Nicholas Berini · Hoboken, New Jersey

Ironic because the claim is often made that those who understand AGW (us zealots! ha) are trying to push society back into the dark ages (when we’re not trying to redistribute the wealth of course.)

Personally I would take mental enlightenment over fossil-fuel energy but maybe that’s a personal choice.

1 · Like · Reply · August 11 at 1:19pm

Thomas Jamison · Top Commenter

Not unusual at all. The other side has used this tactic over and over. They know that it is wise to accuse the other side of doing exactly what you are doing, but make your accusation first. Then. when they accuse you of what you are actually doing, it looks weak and empty. It turns into a “he said/she said” type of argument. A very effective way to disarm your opponent.

They may be dumb as s**t about climate science, but they have their tactics refined to a very high level.

8 · Like · Reply · August 11 at 8:14pm

taylorbarke (signed in using Yahoo)

Global warming is a threat to their world view, a view that their magic sky father gave them the planet to do with as they see fit(no wonder the business world loves christianity so much) and that nothing they did would have such consequences, it also flies in the face of the myth of technological progress and unending unlimited growth, and their tiny reptile brains have to do every thing they can to protect their belief structure. I surely hope that this Barke jerkoff isn’t related to me. These people are a threat to all complex organism on earth today. And really should be treated as some kind of terrorist.

8 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 1:35pm

John Poteet · Top Commenter · Chico, California

The right in the U.S. has gone on a full scale attack on objective reality. It doesn’t matter if the topic is geology (oil), history (unions), science (evolution, climate change) or mathematics (budgets) they hate FACTS.

FACTS have a nasty habit of telling them that their emotions are wrong headed and in contradiction to what’s real. So they’re trying to do away with them. It’s like a six year old that hates clocks because it’s bedtime.

6 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 2:55pm

Paul Magnus · Top Commenter

John … “a six year old ” is spot on. These guys have been seduced by oil in to think the current luguious consumer life style is a right that is not to be denied, even when reality comes knocking and the consequences for our future generations are plain to see.

It is a crime against humanity to be.

5 · Like · Reply · August 11 at 3:29pm

oflibertysons (signed in using Yahoo)

This is very curious behavior. As we know there have been many actual death threats against climate scientists in Australia.

How odd such violent reactions would be brought about by talking about some very clear science. We need a psychological study on this violent response itself. Such a study may be a great help in getting the global warming message out to all who must hear it in governments and the public.

6 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 1:13pm

Paul Magnus · Top Commenter

This atmosphere has come about because of the avoiders and subtle deniers, the doubters. Especially the ones in leading and influential position (Obama). They have creates a void which has filled with those pushing their deluded view and agenda.

What ever needs to be done, needs to be done soon to get on top of this before we see a totally dysfunctional society unable to tackle threats, especially the existential ones like peak oil and the climate crisis.

5 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 3:22pm

Mandy Henk · Top Commenter · Access Services Librarian at DePuaw University

You optimism that we have not already reached the point of total dysfunction does not seem to be warranted. Though I am sympathetic to it.

3 · Like · Reply · August 11 at 3:45pm

Paul Magnus · Top Commenter

Oh it can, will get worse….

Like · Reply · August 11 at 4:03pm

Prokaryotes – · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

Welcome to the Dark Age 2.0.

5 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 1:30pm

  • taylorbarke (signed in using Yahoo)

Oh, this’ll end up much worse than the dark age if they continue to stonewall all progress on this issue.

9 · Like · Reply · August 11 at 1:36pm

  • Prokaryotes – · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

I agree.

Like · Reply · August 11 at 10:23pm

Llewelly Foo

I note the picture you have used gives denialists demon eyes.

I applaud this decision. The nice approach has been tried for decades, and it has proved wholly inadequate to the task, and it’s high time other strategies be explored.

4 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 14 at 4:54pm

Shaheer Cassim · Victoria, British Columbia

Denial videos have been sent to 11 000 Canadian schools, urging teachers to tell students that scientists are exaggerating. Props to the Heartland Institute for brutally truncating the lives of young people through Abrupt Climate Change.

3 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 12 at 12:52am

Peter S. Mizla · Top Commenter · Vernon, Connecticut

The Far right will extract every bit of profit using fossil fuels till the public votes their supporters in Congress out of power- only then when we have a huge super majority like the kind FDR had in 1936 and LBJ in 1964 had, will we see real progress in reducing emissions. When this happens is anyone’s guess—- a date When……

3 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 3:56pm

Leif Erik Knutsen · Top Commenter · Friends with Joseph Romm

Hay Obama, heal the Nation,
Give us climate education!

3 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 12:57pm

Dorothy Carlo · Western New England College School of Law

With this stuff gong on, why is it a surprise that American education, particularly science and math education is leaving us behind other countries. Civics, the most basic study for an informed electorate, is not being taught in our schools any longer. We should be ashamed.

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 15 at 8:14am

Michael Greathouse

Sooooooo now “Tea Party” parents across the country are fighting to prevent global warming AND evolution to be taught in public schools. What’s next, 2+2=5? Dark Ages indeed..

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 15 at 8:27am

Paul Bagne · Securities Investor at PDB Investments, LLC

It is frightening to me how long and how hard the conservatives, with corporate interests in hand, have been working to control curriculum. Robert Simonds, director of Citizens for Excellence in Education, claimed that his rightwing Christian group in 1992 had won 3500 school board seats in 14 states and in 1994 had elected some 12,000 board members throughout the country. Soon after newspapers in hundreds of cities and towns reported on school board controversies related to the Simmons agenda.

Ten years before and intensified to this day ( Simmons had proclaimed his mission: “There are 15,700 school districts in America. When we get an active Christian parents’ committee in operation in all districts, we can take complete control of all local school boards. This would allow us to determine all local policy, select good textbooks, good curriculum programs, superintendents and principals.”

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 12 at 4:02pm

Paul Hoover · Top Commenter · CSE II at Diebold Inc.

I think many Christian conservatives are hypocrites. Claiming God is first cause for everything then polluting his creation in the name of economic freedom. Isn’t that the love of money, the root of all evil? Generalities, false dichotomy, ad hominem, circular argument, begging the question, the “logic” list is a long one when evaluating the tactics used by conservatives in their attack on science. We will pay the price for years to come with an ignorant populace.

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 13 at 9:49am

kacevedo (signed in using Yahoo)

Conservatives are prevented by their religion from believing in climate change. They come from a religious viewpoint that weather and climate events are a means of punishment or reward from a supreme deity. Because of their religious beliefs, they cannot accept that human activity can influence weather and climate.

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 13 at 4:57pm

Ron Bunting · Florida State University

What’s the solution that will effectively leave them looking as stupid as they act?

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 14 at 2:12pm

John Poteet · Top Commenter · Chico, California

No offense but encouraging them to move to Florida would do it. Some nice beachfront property. }:~>

Like · Reply · August 17 at 1:52am

Michelle Rogers

This has to be fought to stop the US turning into a state like Iran! From the European perspective fundamentalism is the same whatever the religion and threatens all our security around the world.

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 13 at 4:55am

chrislocktherock (signed in using Yahoo)

I don’t have enough time to teach climate change. It isn’t in the science curricula I teach, and I am contractually obligated to teach what’s in the curriculum. I am a sponsor teacher for the environment club, where we talk about climate change and other issues. But if I were given the chance to teach students about climate change, I wouldn’t hesitate to take on the deniers.

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 7:09pm

Anthony William O’brien · Perth, Western Australia

The owners of this country do not want prople who can think beyond the requirements of the job they do.

Not quite how George Carlin put it, but close.

So emotional response is entirely desirable. Just believe what your owners tell you.

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 12 at 1:31am

Geremea Fioravanti · University of South Alabama

Concussion science research is acceptable quickly as is the threat of new strains of bird flu (through a process of evolution). However, research that may cause us to change our system of consumption is not.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 13 at 10:31am

Roger Anderson · Top Commenter · University of Nha Trang

In the long haul it’s going to be all of us who pay for this dumming down of America. Inhofe and the kochs will be long dead by the time the bill comes due.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 12 at 12:04pm

Susan Baber

Teach our kids science the right way —

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 1:09pm

Edward A Kimble · Dilbert Engineering College of Antiliberal Arts

Perhaps we missed something, in less than 200 years all the major source of oil and coal are gone anyway, materials that used to be in the environment a few million years ago. The computer models say that in the long term man has less that 2.5% control of sources but a 30% control of sinks for CO2. Why then all the nut jobs trying to control sources?

N.B. A solar evacuated heat pipe installation has a payback of 4 years or less, would replace 90% of the CO2 produced in the world, and can be used for cooling, hot water heating, cooking, and electricity production. Why then, in holy hecll, would you spend your freaking time attacking coal companies. Shut the doors permanently, end this silliness, no laws required, just simple economics :-)

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 14 at 11:54pm

Paul Magnus · Top Commenter


Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 3:51pm

Michael Greathouse

Sooooooo now “Tea Party” parents across the country are fighting to prevent global warming AND evolution to be taught in public schools. Dark Ages indeed..

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 15 at 12:06am

catman306 (signed in using Yahoo)

Start by firming up the definition of “fact”. Some facts can seemingly be influenced by people’s opinions. Not scientific facts. Political facts: yes.

Google ‘fact definition’ and hit the ‘more’ button.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 12:59pm

George Cleveland · Merrill, Wisconsin

Then they came for the science teachers?

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 15 at 12:20am

Joshua Probert · Top Commenter · Research Scientist at University of Washington

School choice would fix it.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 1:59pm

Bart Laws · Top Commenter · Assistant Professor at Brown University

Not at all. Most parents do not believe in the truth of evolution, and half of them don’t believe that AGW is true. So they’d all pack their kids off to schools that provide a medieval education. I hardly consider that a fix.

6 · Like · Reply · August 11 at 3:09pm

Joshua Probert · Top Commenter · Research Scientist at University of Washington

One angry parent can’t ruin it for the rest. And the kids going to nutter schools with shoddy curriculae that can’t get jobs will encourage their parents to choose to go to a different school. Imagine the emboldened Principal who takes the angry parent who threatens to “cause a scene” and just says, “If you don’t like it, take your kid elsewhere.”

Currently next to no schools are willing to take these issues on because in a school choice free arena they’re goal is to avoid controversy. At least in your version, half the kids would get a proper education.

Like · Reply · August 11 at 9:12pm

Llewelly Foo

What school choice would bring:

1 · Like · Reply · August 14 at 2:43am

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