Year 4, Month 1, Day 5: They Seek The Truth, Before They Can Die

The Capitol Times (Madison, WI) has a nuanced discussion of climate denial in the educational system. What’s happening in WI is happening everywhere.

The far right dominates the world of “climate change denial,” which Wikipedia defines as: “A set of organized attempts to downplay, deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of global warming, its significance, and its connection to human behavior, especially for commercial or ideological reasons.”

You don’t even need to leave the state to find one of the nation’s leading practitioners. In a PBS “Frontline” program titled “Climate of Doubt” that aired in October, U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, argued that scientists have failed to convince Congress about global warming.

Which brings me to Casey Meehan, born in Janesville and educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For six years, Meehan taught high school psychology and history in the Janesville and Monona Grove school districts before returning to UW-Madison to pursue a Ph.D. in education.

Meehan has just finished his dissertation on how climate change is taught in Wisconsin schools. You might not be surprised by his conclusion: Unlike most subjects on which there is scientific consensus, with climate change the human role typically is taught as an open question.

Meehan’s initial focus upon returning to school was environmental education, but he says he noticed that not much had been written about the teaching of climate change.

“I started thinking more about how climate change is such an ideologically polarizing topic, and I was just curious about how schools were dealing with that,” he told me in an interview. “How are they teaching this topic that the public thinks a range of things about, but scientists think something very specifically about?”

Yup. December 31:

Once upon a time, political conservatives were simply cautious people who feared change — especially change that threatened their economic security or social position, as witness their early opposition to such mainstays of American society as Social Security. But somehow over the past few decades, conservatism has become resistant, not to change, but to reality itself. While this is evident in their responses to issues like marriage equality and immigration policy, nowhere does it do so much harm as in the politicized discussion of the climate crisis.

Thanks to the Right’s relentless demonization of scientists and environmentalists, even the most anodyne statements about the natural world are now considered too controversial for free discussion in schools, as demonstrated by Casey Meehan’s illuminating study of the problems Wisconsin teachers face in addressing climate change. The fact that educators cannot address scientific reality in their classrooms without risking parental backlash is a sad commentary on the scientific literacy in America — and a demonstration that conservatism has become a grotesque parody of its former self.

Warren Senders


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