Response to my email on teaching climate change…

Following the email I sent via the People and Planet website, an automatic response has been delivered…

Unravelling current confusions around the national curriculum and the school curriculum

‘We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’

(Native American Proverb)

Thank you for your enquiry on this very important matter.

Very few people read past the headline of the Guardian article of 13th June (Climate change should go from school syllabus). Many people have missed the point. For example: websites are saying ‘Keep climate change in the school curriculum’. This is a confusion. It confuses the National Curriculum with the School Curriculum. If we desire our National Curriculum to be robust, enduring and not overbearing, then we need to have some strong principles about what is in and what is not.

The National Curriculum lays down, in law, the fundamentals which all children should be taught. It should be lean and precise, describing the essentials of human knowledge and understanding. The National Curriculum is part of, but not the totality, of the School Curriculum.

The School Curriculum should be broad and balanced, consisting of rich learning programmes devised by teachers who understand which topics and issues would most motivate and engage their pupils.

The national and international evidence scrutinised by the Expert Panel giving advice on the National Curriculum suggests that this is a vital distinction which we, in our education system, have lost.

The National Curriculum should provide a clear statement of the essential elements of learning which underpin – and form part of – a broad and balanced School Curriculum for children from 5 to 16.

A slimmed-down National Curriculum is intended to be a positive development, empowering teachers and schools. It increases the ‘professional space’ in schools, giving the opportunity for teachers carefully to select themes and issues which will maximise learners’ motivation and engagement.

It’s precisely BECAUSE the environment is so important that we need children to engage with these complex issues with comprehensive and incisive scientific understanding. The National Curriculum should focus with great intensity on what this understanding comprises. We want increasing attainment and understanding amongst those taking science and related subjects in Higher Education; we need all children to be prepared well for engagement in ALL of the vital issues which confront our society.

As the Chair of the Expert Panel, providing advice to the Secretary of State on the content of a new, more robust National Curriculum, I am seeking to assert the distinction between the National Curriculum and the School Curriculum, precisely because we want issues such as climate change to be discussed in such a way that the right actions will be taken by the next generation, and generations to come.

Once again, thank you for your comments on these vital matters.

 Tim Oates

Cambridge, June 2011

After reading this and the attached letter, I sent the following response…

Good afternoon,
 
I read with interest and concern the automatic response to my email regarding climate change as part of the National Curriculum. The thrust of your response seems to be to slim down the national curriculum and put forward only the essential knowledge in key subjects.
 
I agree with this, but not having climate change in there is a regressive move, considering what has been proven to be one of the most serious threats to human civilisation, ever faced by humans. Evidence put forward from a range of sources is unequivocal, in that humans are having a profound influence on the way in which our planet functions. I’m not sure what the criteria is upon which anyone can make the decision that this isn’t a critically important subject, given that it affects every single living organism on the planet.
 
One of the headlines regarding this subject was ‘putting science back into science’. How is science not part of the study of climate change? The study of climate change is grounded in hard data, collected over hundreds of years. The study of climate change is connected to multiple subjects and can be used as a practical means of introducing the learning concepts to students.
 
By all means give teachers flexibility and freedom in how they put across the information, but this subject has to be included.
 
I hope this response will be taken into consideration.
 
out
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2 thoughts on “Response to my email on teaching climate change…

  1. Sorry to rain on your parade, but the fellows at HadCRUT, (thats the Met Office plus the Climategate bunch’s data lumped together) have data showing cooling since 2001. (Just like Trenberth said in the email – a “travesty”) Now the sat’ data doesn’t say that. That’s more of a plateau. But the rapid rate of warming has slowed. And the Royal Society is not so unequivocal anymore. They are almost equivocating – let’s say they are open to discourse on the matter. So the greenhouse scare could just be another passing scientific fad. You know, like one of Kuhn’s “paradigms” in his landmark “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”.

    And its not like we haven’t had scares before. You are probably too young to remember they taught Russian ‘set theory’ in elementary maths classes after the Sputnik scare. The fad passed. Then geography and history became ‘social studies’ when sociology hit the big time in the ’60s. Television was going to “revolutionize education and coimmunication”. Then they recycled that same sound-byte for computers. And nobody can write legibly since the little-uns got PCs at school. Fads come and go.

    Here in ‘Oz’, we are getting a National Curriculum too. With the climate orthodoxy thrown in for good measure. Ironically, our Federal Schools Minister Peter Garrett’s old rock band Midnight Oil used to sing: “Cold, cold change….waiting to begin, left us all angry and bewildered, laughing at the way we were taken in”

    • Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence of average global warming since the start of the industrial revolution and there is a direct correlation with rising CO2 levels. This is further supported by numerous long-term temperature studies, including ice cores samples and chemical analysis, which present data over thousands of years. The CO2 levels within the atmosphere are now at roughly 380 ppm, as opposed to 280 in 1750. This is higher than at any point during the last 420,000 years (according to the evidence).

      Climate change isn’t just about global warming, but about general changes to many and varied environments around the world. It’s really not good enough to dismiss this as a passing fad. There are clear and well documented examples of the effects of climate change. Warming averages are used, because this takes into account rises and falls in temperature. The trend is upwards and this cannot be ignored.

      The science of global warming and climate change is generally based on measuring temperature changes in various ways (but there are many other techniques, such as measuring ocean acidification). Here are some of the indicators of global warming which are being used to support the theory…

      Indicators, which show an increase…
      Air temperature troposphere
      Sea levels
      Humidity
      Sea surface temperature
      Temperature over oceans
      Ocean heat content
      Temperature over land

      And also some of the decreasing indicators, which show an increase in warming…
      Snow cover
      Sea ice
      Glaciers

      I’m personally not treating this whole issue as a given. My view is based on any evidence I happen to have taken in and digested. My views have done, and do change depending on what the evidence says. If all of the studies associated with the various indicators had shown a decrease in global warming, there wouldn’t even be a debate, as there would be no evidence to back up the theory. The opposite is true and until the available evidence says otherwise, this will be my view.

      Given the seriousness of the subject and it’s importance to the planet and every living organism on it, I believe it should form part of the core teaching subjects.

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