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86 percent of teachers say kids should learn about climate change. Only 42 percent teach it.

A new NPR/Ipsos poll highlights a big gap in climate change education.

Most parents and teachers say that climate change should be taught in schools, but most teachers are not incorporating it into their lessons.
Most parents and teachers say that climate change should be taught in schools, but most teachers are not incorporating it into their lessons.
Shutterstock

The vast majority of parents and teachers in the US want kids to learn about the looming catastrophe of climate change.

But according to the results of two new NPR/Ipsos polls released on Earth Day, most teachers and parents aren’t teaching it at all.

Parents and teachers agree that climate change should be taught in school, but most are not teaching it.
Parents and teachers agree that climate change should be taught in school, but most are not teaching it.
Alyson Hurt/NPR

The surveys of 1,007 adults and 505 teachers showed that more than 80 percent of parents and 86 percent of teachers agree that climate change should be part of the curriculum (the overall sample has a 3.5 percent credibility interval). And when broken down by political affiliation, 81 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans said they believed that schools should teach climate change as well as its economic and societal impacts.

Yet only 45 percent of parents and 42 percent of teachers actually teach or discuss climate change with children. That means 55 percent of teachers don’t talk to their students about it at all.

For teachers, the main reason they cited for not teaching climate change is that it’s not related to the subjects they teach. Others said they didn’t know enough about climate change or didn’t have the materials to teach it. But for such a far-reaching problem, it’s hard to see how climate change couldn’t be integrated into every subject — history, math, science, economics.

The results appear at a time when school kids are increasingly expressing their anger about the warmer world they are going to inherit — and adults’ negligence of the problem — in the school strike movement. An estimated 1.4 million students across 123 countries skipped school last month to protest global inaction on climate change. It’s part of a global movement known as Fridays for Future. Another strike is scheduled for May 24.

There isn’t much good polling on children’s opinions in general, but it’s likely that younger people are more alarmed than their elders about climate change. A Gallup poll last year showed 70 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 are worried about climate change, compared to 56 percent of Americans 55 or older.

Some teachers have nonetheless taken plenty of initiative in teaching their students about rising average temperatures. Benjamin Buehler, who taught fourth and fifth grade in Wilsonville, Oregon, a suburb of Portland, told Vox climate change has been in his curriculum for more than a decade.

“I approached the actual teaching differently depending on the particular interests of my class, but we always covered climate through various lenses (the effects on animal populations, human communities, business and industry, migration and interaction of peoples, etc.),” he wrote in an email.

And there are plenty of materials available for teachers looking to incorporate climate change into their lessons. Some educators like Boston Public Schools have already developed a climate change curriculum. The National Education Association also offers teaching guides, and advocacy groups like the National Wildlife Federation have put together climate change lesson plans.

So if children are our future, we need to teach them well and let them lead the way.