Guest post: Should teachers use the classroom for campaigning on climate change

John Shade is a retired industrial statistician who runs the blog ‘Climate Lessons‘ to share his concerns about materials and campaigns aimed at children about the climate. He was co-author of the report ‘Climate Control: Brainwashing in schools’ which we covered on this site and requested this opportunity to share more fully his concerns…

Is the teaching of basic skills and basic knowledge not hard enough without adding the complication of deliberate political manipulation into the mix? Are teachers to be the willing servants of whichever government or ideological position happens to be currently fashionable or empowered? Are they also to willingly intervene between parents and their children in ways which seem intended to weaken the special bonds within a family?

I am particularly concerned with climate change and the associated wish of some powerful groups, not least in international agencies and NGOs, to make use of children as political tools with which to promote fundamental views about life, and even lifestyle and political choices, on to their parents. There are materials out there aimed at scaring children about their future, and surveys show that many are in fact living with a fear that they may not survive thanks to environmental catastrophes heading their way. There are materials aimed at distancing children from their own parents by persuading them, the children, that their parents are part of ‘the problem’ and need to be changed.

This combination of fear about the future and separation from previous sources of trust and guidance, are basic elements of brainwashing as described by Sowell (1993) in his book ‘Inside American Education’ where he provides several examples of such ‘stripping away of defences’ in schools in a range of programmes.

Andrew Montford and I have written a report entitled ‘Climate Control: Brainwashing in schools’ (GWPF, 2014) in which we focus on eco-alarms in general, and climate-related ones in particular. This was reported on here on the Schools Improvement Net (2014), where it attracted a few generally disparaging comments. None addressed our concerns that there may be widespread targeting of children in our schools with what amounts to eco-propaganda or, at the very least, inadequate treatment of important topics. But why should teachers be engaged at all with such campaigning in their classrooms and in extra-curricular events for their pupils? By all means, let them campaign with other adults, and engage them in debate on controversial issues. But surely it should be beneath them to seek to take advantage of their position in the classroom to try to persuade their pupils of their views?

‘Save the World on Your Own Time’. This is the title of a book by Fish (2008), and, although the book is about tertiary education, the spirit of that title is relevant here. The blurb about it on Amazon notes ‘When teachers offer themselves as moralists, political activists, or agents of social change rather than as credentialed experts in a particular subject and the methods used to analyze it, they abdicate their true purpose.’

An article in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THS, 2008) describes more of the content, e.g. ‘Many of the chapters sound like bluff common sense – “Do your job“, “Don’t try to do someone else’s job“, “Don’t let anyone else do your job” – ‘ and ‘In terms of what goes on in the classroom, Fish argues, “The line of virtue is very clear: are you asking academic questions or are you trying to nudge your students in some ideological partisan direction? ..’

Back in 2007, the then Labour government chose to distribute an emotive and politically-loaded DVD about climate to all schools in England & Wales. It was called ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, and was full of self-serving propaganda presented by a politician apparently intent on being seen as a saviour of the planet. In my view this was an astonishing and disgraceful action by the government. How dare they try to manipulate the young in such a fashion! Sadly it was part of a broader effort by them to use schools, and thus teachers, as agents for the promotion of far-reaching societal and personal changes linked to climate scares and the often associated topic of ‘sustainable development’. Far from being agreed, or even well-defined, these are controversial areas today, as indeed they were back in 2007.

So, gentle readers of this blog, do you think eco-activism should be given a free rein within schools? Do you think you should participate in raising fears, followed by giving detailed guidance on how your pupils should live, as well as on what they should think? Do you think it is part of your job to burden your pupils with ‘saving the planet’ and putting pressure on their parents?

References

Fish (2008) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Save-World-Your-Own-Time/dp/0195369025

GWPF (2014) http://www.thegwpf.org/climate-control/

Schools Improvement (2014) http://schoolsimprovement.net/heads-are-breaking-the-law-if-they-preach-eco-agenda-warns-gove-education-secretarys-concern-at-report-that-accuses-activist-teachers/

Sowell (1993) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Inside-American-Education-Thomas-Sowell/dp/0743254082

THS (2008) http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/404187.article

John Shade is a retired industrial statistician, who has previously worked as a professional meteorologist for four years, and before that as a schoolteacher for a year. He runs the blog ‘Climate Lessons’ to share his concerns about materials and campaigns aimed at children about climate (http://climatelessons.blogspot.co.uk/).

Please let us know what you make of John’s post and feel free to ask him questions in the comments below…

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Categories: Guest Post.

Comments

  1. O2OConditioning

    SchoolsImprove No. Informing ? yes. But campaigning? No. Give students all the information so they can make up their own minds

  2. Let’s say we discover that sugar intake is a major cause of obesity, but that the majority of parents do not believe this, even though the majority of scientists agree.  Should we refrain from showing teenagers a documentary showing seriously obese people and the health effects?  Should we not show it in case it causes fear in the students?

  3. neilayates

    SchoolsImprove Deliver factual information then encourage independent thinking. Peddling your own politics/private agendas never acceptable

  4. Does ‘teaching students about the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change’ count as information, or propaganda?
    I teach science, and so I teach about weight of evidence, and the social nature of science.
    I agree that in some schools teachers promote a simplistic view that doesn’t help students to be well-informed about the impact of human activities on the natural environment.

  5. LaCatholicState

    SchoolsImprove Climate change should not be forced down the throats of pupils….it is not definite science and is politicised!

  6. bombaybadboy79

    SchoolsImprove I would have to agree , we have to adopt changes from an early age and let children understand that the world is a resource

  7. bombaybadboy79

    SchoolsImprove that is not free, what we do today affects the generations to come, we are the makers of our own destiny

  8. Sirhornet

    LaCatholicState SchoolsImprove Yet you happily force the myths and prejudices that make “religion” down pupils throats!

  9. BowenHJ

    LaCatholicState SchoolsImprove haha got to agree with Peter on this one! Climate change should be in the curriculum.

  10. LaCatholicState

    BowenHJ SchoolsImprove Not as confirmed science….but open to debate and different views. Climate has always changed!

  11. LaCatholicState

    Sirhornet SchoolsImprove How do you know Catholicism is myth?! If it was…I wouldn’t believe it. Secular atheism is myth.

  12. Sirhornet

    .LaCatholicState Creation, transubstantiation, purgatory, limbo, resurrection, angels, god for starters- not one piece of evidence for any.

  13. Sherbs1

    LaCatholicState SchoolsImprove Obviously beaten to it by Peter. Please explain how secular atheism is a myth. I am confused.

  14. Sherbs1

    LaCatholicState SchoolsImprove I don’t want to get into too deep a debate but where does logic apply to belief systems?

  15. LaCatholicState

    Sherbs1 SchoolsImprove I don’t know about you…..but if something isn’t logical I can’t believe it.

  16. Sherbs1

    LaCatholicState SchoolsImprove Your name suggests to me an acceptance of many illogical beliefs Bible is full of stories that defy logic

  17. Sherbs1

    LaCatholicState SchoolsImprove By the way my followers total is stuck at an unfortunate number for such discussions

  18. LaCatholicState

    Sherbs1 SchoolsImprove There is nothing illogical in the Holy Bible. Only all of life is in it…the natural and the supernatural.

  19. LaCatholicState

    BowenHJ SchoolsImprove Science which has practical purposes is confirmed. We don’t jump out windows as we know about gravity.

  20. MikeHaseler

    @bombaybadboy79 SchoolsImprove 
    We should be thankful that previous generations produced the industrial and economic infrastructure that enables the whole world to live with health, communication and luxury goods that give us the standard of living we have today.
    We live off the work of our forefathers – and what do we endow to our kids except a lot of scaremongering and windmills that will end up rusting on the hills when this fad goes the way of every other scare from birdflu to the millennium bug?

  21. MikeHaseler

    What kids need to be taught is how we in Scotland can compete in the modern world economy. What they are actually being taught is that “competition is bad”, that the economy is evil and that everything we as a nation endowed to the world through being the leaders in the industrial revolution was a terrible sin.

    The simple fact is that CO2 is a plant food. Plants love CO2 and so it is no surprise that plant growth has gone up with rising CO2 and as a result deserts are shrinking. It’s also a simple fact that the 1690s which was a colder-wetter period in Scotland saw massive famines in Scotland with estimates of up to 1/4 of the Scottish population dying.

    Today around 23,000 people die of cold in the winter months in the UK and I was surprised to find that this is also true in India (from a presentation at the Royal Society). Cold is a real killer, and humans inhabit the whole globe from the equator – except the colder regions.

    None of this gets taught to kids in School. It’s all factual, it doesn’t mean that rising CO2 is likely to cause some rise in temperature, nor that sea level may rise marginally, but there are clearly an unequivocally much bigger issues for almost everyone in the world.

    The simple fact is that CO2 is very strongly correlated with economic output. So, as the world has grown richer, we have used more fossil fuels and we are all better off as a result. As countries use more fossil fuel, their standard of life gets better, their healthcare improves, their schooling improves, governments tend to become democratic.

    Moreover, anyone who looks at older victorian Black and white pictures of ANY TOWNSCAPE will immediately notice how much more polluted it was.

    We are living at a time of unparalleled prosperity, with rivers and air cleaner than they have been for 100s of years and with education, equality, etc. etc.

    And what do teachers teach children? They teach them that all this progress is bad, all those who worked to create this modern economy are evil, and that we must all listen to the “green” which recent research shows have the biggest “carbon footprint” of all society, because most of them are very rich and that wealth in itself means they are responsible for more CO2 output than anyone else.

    So who should we listen to? Green hypocrites – or the sane sensible people who gave us a modern economy of which we should be proud?

  22. NinV

    Mike Bell
    Let’s say we discover that the major causes of obesity are genetics and age, that the major cause of the increase is the changing of definitions, and the improvement of nutrition standards since post WWII austerity.Let’s say we discover that, in a sort of ‘obesity paradox’, mortality is actually lower for the overweight and obese than it is for those of ‘normal’ weight? Let’s say we find yo-yo changes in weight are also bad for our health. Let’s say we discover that body weight and the amount people eat is uncorrelated, that because energy balance is related to the *rate of change* of weight, and the energy people use differs from person to person, that fat people sometimes eat less than thin people, and that weight (like most of our biochemistry) is controlled within strict limits by a complex system of hormones and biochemical signals. Let’s say we find that diets can only provide a temporary weight loss (6 months-1 year), and that the body generally readjusts to put it back on within about 5 years. Let’s say we find the long-standing advice against eating saturated fat was incorrect. Let’s say we find that the entire diet industry and health-food industry are lucrative scams, that have broadcast misinformation for decades that has caused worry, ill health, and eating and body image disorders like anorexia.
    Let’s say we’ve known all this for decades, and have kept quiet about it. Should we not tell students, for fear they’ll stop listening to the experts, like us?

  23. Derek

    Mike Bell Of course if we discover definite facts then these should be taught. Unfortunately the science of global warming consists of mostly conjecture and politically driven exaggeration.

  24. Radical Rodent

    To tell the truth, if the majority of comments on here are indicative of the level of debate amongst teachers, then God help our children…

  25. VictoriaJaquiss

    SchoolsImprove Moslem friend would have been refused the 6th form EMA grant unless she attended the Catholic services at her school.

  26. carbev

    SchoolsImprove if we can’t use the classroom to get students to question their responsibilities, what can we do?

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