A few days ago, I traveled from Finland to Munich to Regensburg, a small city in eastern Bavaria. I spent a year here, 2004-5, and much looks just a it did. My family and I dined at our favorite pizzaria in Regensburg, L’Osteria, for the first time in eleven years. I bought Regensburger rolls at a number of bakeries I remember fondly. In the toy store where I once took my two-year old–now thirteen–displays of wooden Christmas ornaments stood on the same shelves.
But something has changed. The countryside between Munich and Regensburg is transformed. Numerous fields are filled with vast arrays of solar panels. Seemingly half the buildings in central Bavaria have panels. Countless barns and industrial buildings are covered in them.
When I lived here a decade ago, I was struck how Germans ascribed any warm day to climate change, something Americans just didn’t do in the early Bush years. Ten years on, they aren’t just talking about the weather but putting there concerns into action.
It is heartening that Germany and its Conservative leader, Angela Merkel, have taken the lead in pursuit of a modern economy fuelled by sustainable power. In 2015, as one headline announced, “Almost 33% Of German Electricity Came From Renewables in 2015.” Things are looking up.
And then … I read this, in the Daily Telegraph of Blue Field, West Virginia:
CHARLESTON — Fears that global warming would be taught to West Virginia students provoked members of the House of Delegates to act on staving off education in the state on the topic while repealing Common Core Standards Friday. The bill that will prohibit the State Board of Education from using Common Core and related testing measures passed the House of Delegates by an overwhelming 73-20 vote, with seven members absent.
Really, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a legislator, quoted in the article, claims they are getting rid of their science standards because legislators didn’t want to “politicize” science by teaching about climate change. But reading about it in Germany is a stark reminder of the work to be done.
“Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, said his review of the standards revealed measures to have students show causes for global warming and ways to prevent it. ‘In an energy producing state, we are teaching our kids we are doing immoral things here in order to make a living in our state,’ Butler said.”
(Sure, the Obama administration is doing what it can despite such action on the state level, but I don’t rest easier knowing it also spied on communication between Chancellor Merkel and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the Paris climate conference.)
As a teacher, I worry about another generation of students raised with little attention paid to climate change–or, as other recent journalism has shown, ignoring it or getting it wrong. I find the argument that we do a poor job teaching climate change and its impacts because most important research has been done since most teachers left school unpersuasive.
I am lucky (and everyone should have this luck) to teach at a school where science isn’t politicized and where teachers are trusted to know what they are talking about. But this clearly isn’t the case everywhere. When will West Virginia or Texas ever teach students according to scientific knowledge rather than the interests of each “energy-producing state”?
I have come to wonder if the only way for American education to change, nationally, is for teachers and students to go to jail.
Without picking up the tempting comparisons to the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, I think the federal government must compel the states to mandate the teaching of science in science classrooms by threatening the education funding such states have come to rely upon (and other funding–remember how state drinking ages rose to 21 in the 1980s when the Reagan Administration threatened to withhold transportation funding?) .
But no such movement has ever begun from the top down. There have always had to be arrests and other shows of civil disobedience before the federal government acted. In this case, we may once again need the young to show the way. How else will state departments of education ever help prepare students for the challenges ahead?