Do you know what your children are learning in school about climate change? Have you ever looked at their textbooks? Is it education or indoctrination? How accurate are the facts? How much is it an ideological or a political message? Is it a balanced curriculum offering options or one imposing a singular view? How much is fear the vehicle of indoctrination?
Do you only learn about the material when your elementary school child can’t sleep because of threats of a rising sea level? Are you like the mother who told me how children at a birthday party for her seven-year-old cried when a balloon burst because they said there would be another hole in the ozone? I hear from many people about children traumatized by what they have learned in school. A British survey of children between 7 and 11 found half of them are anxious about the impacts of global warming to the point of losing sleep. At what age do we place societal or world problems on young shoulders? US TV celebrity psychologist “Dr. Phil” says emphatically, don’t put adult problems on children’s shoulders.
No doubt, environmental advocates like Al Gore and Canadian counterpart David Suzuki believe pushing their message to young people is necessary to produce the type of people they want for their world, but at what age is it acceptable? Aristotle distinguished between knowledge that was essentially innate and knowledge that required life experience to assimilate. Information about the latter is purely propaganda when introduced to the young. It is indoctrination.
There is a difference between presenting accurate facts and selling a message. It is like the difference between an advertisement selling a product or one selling a message (known as advocacy advertising.) By insinuating their message into the school curriculum they want to produce future citizens who think and act as they want about the environment. What they are really doing is insidiously putting on the cloak of green to mask a political ideology. They are effective because the ease of access they are given to the schools. This is in sharp contrast to the experience of those who want to explain what is wrong with the science and offer the alternative view for balance. I know from years of involvement with curriculum design and development how easy it is to ‘direct’ the information going to the classroom. How much input do parents have? Is it adequate to assume educators know what is best for tomorrow’s citizen?
Some parents want their children indoctrinated, but often don’t know what they are doing. Keith Wiley, father of seven-year old Gillian admits he wrote her entry for David Suzuki’s contest, “If I were Prime Minister.” “A planet with no poisons, and, carbon dioxide.” What he doesn’t know is this guarantees no future for his daughter. CO2 is the most important gas in the atmosphere. Without it plants die so there is no oxygen and no animals including Gillian. Indeed, current levels of 385 parts per million (ppm) are one third what research shows is optimum for plants. So in the misguided blind faith of religious environmentalism, they strive to eliminate CO2 when it is not causing climate change and in doing so potentially kill all life. Maybe it’s an extreme example of the bumper sticker proposal to “Save the Planet; kill yourself.” It also underlines the fact that climate science is taught in the Social Studies curriculum when it should be in the Science curriculum. Without scientific understanding you simply have discussions in ignorance and potential for ideological and political bias.
All societies prepare their children for life. However, a modern western education does little to prepare them for life, but a great deal about how classifying their intelligence and abilities according to a very narrow definition of intelligence. It is the overlooked message of the movie Crocodile Dundee, that a person from the Australian outback can survive in New York while a New Yorker dies quickly in the outback – yet who calls who primitive or intelligent? A primordial education is about surviving. This is different than formal education as evolved in western societies.
Throughout history people pushing ideologies have recognized the role of controlling education of the very young. St. Ignatius of Loyola understood the permanent impression that the years of childhood make on a person when he said, “Give me the first seven years, and I’ll give you the man.” Adolf Hitler wrote about his objectives for the Hitler Youth program, “My program for educating youth is hard. Weakness must be hammered away. In my castles of the Teutonic Order a youth will grow up before which the world will tremble. I want a brutal, domineering, fearless, cruel youth. Youth must be all that.” Some may consider these as extreme examples of what is happening in our schools. Many others don’t.
Sadly, in professing to want an open and environmentally aware citizen they will create a narrowly and inaccurately informed citizenry. They are in danger of creating a society cynical of science so real issues are pushed aside. Some are already aware of this danger. People who were in school in the 1970s are among the most cynical because they were scared by threats of global cooling. There is another unintended consequences as about 20% of high achool students tell me they’re convinced, the world is finished so they want the big house and car and will enjoy the end. My empirical findings were confirmed by a formal study among students in the US. Equally important they are underestimating a much more media aware student body. They are the television generation who learn early that the ‘super duper’ advertised toy is usually just another piece of plastic junk.
The opening paragraph challenged parents about their knowledge of what children are learning in school. Their concern is personal and direct, but the knowledge and implications are important for all of society. If we are going to make the right decisions about local, national and global environmental and resource issues, it is imperative we have accurate facts and a rudimentary understanding of the way the earth works. That is not true now and will be worse if uninformed ideologues continue to have unfettered access without balance. Extending the politics of fear to young children is truly reprehensible no matter the cause.