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Are kids being ‘brainwashed’ on climate change? A teacher responds

Apr 16, 2014 by | 2 Comments

This guest post is by Luke Sinnick, a teacher of A-level Biology at Greenhead College, Huddersfield.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation’s recent report written by Andrew Montford and John Shade is titled ‘Climate Control: Brainwashing in Schools’. The report seeks to show “examples of ser­ious errors, mis­leading claims, and bias through inad­equate treat­ment of cli­mate issues in school teaching mater­ials”. Here, I out­line my thoughts on the report as a teacher of A-level Biology.

As the report is crit­ical of ‘mis­leading claims’ and encour­ages teachers to take a more crit­ical approach to edu­ca­tion I will high­light a few mis­leading claims that I feel Montford & Shade make themselves.

Throughout the report they have select­ively used evid­ence to sup­port their case and are demon­strating exactly the kind of ‘inad­equate treat­ment’ of the issues that is the focus of their cri­ti­cisms of the edu­ca­tion system.

They start with the sug­ges­tion that pro­moting envir­on­mental aware­ness entails “the cor­rup­tion of the cur­riculum in schools in sup­port of a rad­ical world­view that is almost cer­tainly at odds with the majority view in our society”. However, there are repeated polls showing that the ‘majority view’ is that human activity is affecting the cli­mate and that levels of con­cern about the effects of cli­mate change remain high.

In Part 2, Montford and Shade cri­ti­cise the Geography Association’s sug­ges­tion “to encourage chil­dren to think about issues such as the alleged imminent exhaus­tion of fossil fuels”. However, deple­tion of oil reserves in 40 years is a reality sug­gested by groups not nor­mally con­sidered pro­moters of ‘rad­ical world­views’ such as Institute for Mechanical Engineers.

They also dis­cuss prob­lems with the CGP revi­sion guides and their apparent bias.

Firstly, CGP are known for their ‘informal’ style and inclu­sion of (bad) jokes. For example, one guide sug­gests that “methane is a stinky problem but an important one”. We could ana­lyse this state­ment for its fac­tual accuracy (con­sid­ering methane is actu­ally odour­less) but that would not be a fruitful exer­cise when writing a ser­ious policy paper.

Secondly, at the bottom of the page on ‘global warming’ in the CGP guide, it is stated that ‘global warming is still just a theory – lots of sci­ent­ists put­ting together pieces in a jigsaw. The theory has not been com­pletely accepted yet – so be careful when describing what we actu­ally know’.

To present this as a ‘rad­ical world­view’ full of ‘bias’ is again, in their words, highly ‘misleading’.

They cri­ti­cise the inclu­sion of ques­tions such as “explain actions reli­gious people might take to look after the planet” and the marking cri­teria as being biased. However GCSE reli­gious studies papers reg­u­larly include ques­tions such as “Explain briefly why some people have a civil mar­riage cere­mony“. This doesn’t imply a ‘brain­washing’ of chil­dren towards a civil mar­riage cere­mony. Again, the selec­tion of material is itself a biased and mis­leading analysis.

They only use a tiny selec­tion of com­ments at the bottom of a TES survey as an example of ‘what teachers think’ when they could have equally con­trasted these views with an art­icle in The Guardian expressing a very dif­ferent view if they genu­inely sought a bal­anced perspective.

Finally, they con­clude “gone are the days when the edu­ca­tion system hoped to gen­erate young people equipped to form their own opin­ions on com­plex sci­entific, soci­olo­gical and polit­ical issues”.

Although its not clear which days they refer to, I agree this would be an amazing achieve­ment for edu­ca­tion. Teaching chil­dren to crit­ic­ally ana­lyse the polit­ical influ­ence of the data they are given could iron­ic­ally be con­ceived itself as a ‘rad­ical world­view’ due to its fun­da­mental link with effective demo­cracy as excel­lently explained by authors such as Henry Giroux [1].

We teach a huge number of sep­arate sci­entific facts to chil­dren during the AQA A-level Biology course which I am familiar with, some of which we do have time to dis­cuss and cri­ti­cise, some we unfor­tu­nately do not. This would be more apparent to Montford and Shade if they had fur­ther exper­i­ence in edu­ca­tion or engage­ment with the teaching pro­fes­sion when writing such a report.

I do think crit­ical ana­lysis in sci­ence edu­ca­tion should be pro­moted and encour­aged but the choice of which facts to be ana­lysed should be based on the strengths, weak­nesses and com­plexity of the sci­ence involved, not the bias of writers such as Montford and Shade.

They may be inter­ested to know I also taught a lesson this year to a high achieving A2 Biology class where I did actu­ally give equal time to non teacher-led activ­ities looking at argu­ments for and against man made cli­mate change, providing a range of data ‘for’ and ‘against’ (including showing them ‘the great global warming swindle’ they sug­gest in their report), and got them to vote at the end which side they supported.

Their crit­ical ana­lysis led them to unan­im­ously sup­port a human influence.

[1] Giroux, H (2011) On crit­ical ped­agogy. Continuum books

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