I don’t remember when and how I was taught about climate change in school! I wish I did, because it would be interesting to compare my experience with the various experiences cited in Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught in America! Katie Worth is very thorough in how she seeks to understand such a broad topic, for the States is vast and populous and full of fragmented education systems.
I received a free eARC from NetGalley and Columbia Global Reports in exchange for a review.
Worth looks at multiple factors that affect what is taught in a classroom: teachers’ biases, federal and state standards, curriculum, and textbooks. In each chapter, she examines how these factors can intersect and how they relate to our wider society. She includes both quantitative data, such as the percentage of states that have implemented certain standards versus the percentage of population in those states, and qualitative data, such as interviews with various stakeholders. The resulting picture is comprehensive and suggests there are many areas that need to be improved if the United States is going to improve its climate change education.
I said “our wider society” above because even though this book is mostly focused on America, it does mention Canada a couple of times. Worth talks about the Fraser Institute, a conservative organization here in Canada. She doesn’t dive too much into Canadian education systems, and I can say from experience that ours (at least here in Ontario) is nowhere near as dire as what Worth describes in the US. However, the mention of the Fraser Institute is important. Also, Canadian school boards buy American textbooks, and our market is not big enough to allow us to demand our own special edition. Therefore, the textbooks in the States (and the standards in Texas that influence the content that ends up therein) do affect my country’s education as well.
In the same way, the education of Americans affects all of us. We can roll our eyes and snicker and say, “Oh, those backwards Americans!” but at the end of the day, the US remains a very powerful country. That’s why I picked up this book in the first place—not because I’m particularly invested in American education, but because I wanted to see what types of ignorance we are up against that could spill over to an international level.
Worth’s book might make a reader feel somewhat hopeless. How can we compete against the deep pockets of oil and energy companies? How do we tackle the conservative voices that seem to dominate school boards and committees? I think these are the wrong questions. Rather, I think all of the evidence Worth assembles points to a larger conclusion: climate change is a capitalism problem, and the solutions for climate change require an anti-capitalist stance.
I should be clear that Worth herself isn’t arguing this. In true journalistic form, while her bias in favour of climate change education is evident and understandable, Worth dances around the idea that science education should be political. She elects instead to include the voices of various educators who would agree or disagree with that stance. I appreciate her attention to detail and nuance and the fact that she includes the perspectives of climate change skeptics without mockery. This is valuable for me, pierces my bubble wherein I think every reasonable person must think like me. In particular, it was painful but necessary to hear young kids (grade 6) wrestle with their doubts about the reality of climate change as a result of how they were being educated.
Miseducation is a detailed investigative work that provides a clear picture of the state of climate change education in America. This picture is grim, but I don’t think it means we should give up. Rather, I hope that if you read this book you will understand what we are up against and how important it is to organize, at a grassroots level, to work against the groups that prefer profit over our planet.