Monday, January 31, 2011

Teaching climate change in coal country presents special challenges

Teaching climate change for any high school science teacher can be a difficult task. But in a place like Gillette, Wyoming, where livelihoods depend heavily on coal and other fossil fuels, those lessons are met with added pressures. "At some point in their schooling, students in Gillette learn that Campbell County is synonymous with coal — and it doesn’t take long for them to pick up on it," writes Michael DiBiasio of the Gillette News Record. "Knowing all that, if you are a science teacher in a coal town like Gillette — a teacher whose salary can be traced back to one of the county’s surface mines — what do you teach your students about climate change?"

DiBiasio interviews several local science teachers about their approach to teaching climate change for the story and most agreed the important task was getting students to think about the issues for themselves. Tom Jacobs, a science teacher at Campbell County High School, notes when he moved into his classroom 17 years ago he found a film about the benefits of burning coal for the environment in a storage closet. "The industries want us to be skeptical," Jacobs said. "When you talk about climate change, you have to talk about it in a neutral, safe voice. You’re not standing on tables, screaming at politicians."

Jacobs equated teaching climate change in coal country to teaching evolution in the Bible Belt, but at least one other teacher said climate change presented a different set of challenges. "It’s not necessarily in the same ballpark as evolution because it’s not a matter of is it true or not. It’s pretty cut and dried that we know it’s happening," Mark Winland, another Campbell County High School science teacher, said. "It’s also different because one is going up against a set of beliefs and the other is going against a livelihood, and that makes it an emotional issue for a carbon community."

Chemistry teacher Brent Daly notes: "The industry builds our schools and supports the people who live here. Cheap energy is important to our economy, but there may be a price we’re paying for that cheap energy." Christy Gerrits, a middle school science teacher, received an angry email from a parent after she showed Al Gore's documentary ,"An Inconvenient Truth," to her seventh-grade class. Michael Mahoney, a science teacher at Sage Valley Junior High, shows "An Inconvenient Truth" and competing documentary "Carbon Dioxide and the ‘Climate Crisis’ — Reality or Illusion?" as part of a lesson about propaganda and bias.  For Mahoney, dueling viewpoints is a necessary approach for coal country. "I just want to get these kids looking critically at situations," he told DiBiasio. "It’s a good way to introduce climate change, particularly in Gillette where you can get blow back from parents." (Read more)

1 comment:

Adult Communities New York said...

Not just giving lecture with climate change. Let us move and fight climate change. The next generation can be endangered if we do not put into action today.