Written by: Kimberly White

Connecticut schools will soon be required to teach students about climate change thanks to a new state law. 

The new law requires every school district within the state to teach climate change education in line with the Next Generation Science Standards. The mandate was included within the state’s budget implementer bill.

The mandate requires Connecticut public schools to integrate lessons on human-caused climate change into their regular science curriculum starting in July 2023. 

Through the curriculum, students will gather an understanding of how human activities have influenced changes in the climate, how the changing climate and its adverse effects can impact populations, and learn about possible climate solutions and their related costs, reliability, and socio-environmental impacts. Fifth-grade, eighth-grade, and eleventh-grade students are tested on climate change. 

While 90 percent of the state’s schools already teach about climate change, mandating climate education ensures it will not become a victim of budget cuts or be cut due to wavering political will or those who claim climate change is a hoax, explains State Representative Christine Palm, Vice Chair of the Environment Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly. Palm has been working to pass this legislation since 2018. 

“Climate science is often one of the first things, along with arts, to go when budgets are tight,” Palm told The Connecticut Mirror. “A lot of poorer communities weren’t being taught this, and that’s really a travesty, because people of color and people in cities are more affected by climate change… For me, it was a matter of environmental justice.”

Climate miseducation in the U.S. 

There is strong support for teaching children about climate change in the United States. However, despite overwhelming public support, classrooms have become a battleground over climate change science, and the quality of education on climate largely varies, with some schools miseducating children about the cause of climate change. 

A national survey of science teachers found that most middle school and high school teachers devote just one to two hours of instruction on climate change during the academic year, with 30 percent of teachers incorporating less than an hour. 

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There also seems to be an overall lack of recognition of scientific consensus across middle schools and high schools, says the Yale Program on Climate Change

The National Center on Science Education reports that as many as 30 percent of teachers who teach on climate change instruct that scientists agree that human activities are the primary cause of the climate emergency, but also indicate that there are “many scientists” who believe natural causes are behind global temperature rise. This sends mixed messages to children that climate change is still being debated when there is virtually universal scientific consensus on global warming. 

“Education is by nature a very diverse enterprise in this country. There’s no national curriculum and we have 3 million teachers educating 50 million children enrolled in 100,000 public schools. Each of those teachers is teaching based on the state standards, but also based on their expertise and their style,” investigative journalist Katie Worth told The Revelator. “State academic standards guide what a kid should know at the end of a particular grade or subject, but how they get there is very much up to the district or the teacher.”

Worth shines a spotlight on the issues with climate education in U.S. public schools in her book, Miseducation. In her book, Worth shares how oil corporations and lobbyists have played a key role in sowing confusion and distrust in climate science and how that is impacting climate education. 

“There’s a real inequity in terms of what kids are learning about this problem that’s defining the century that they’re born into,” Worth said in another interview with Grist. 

Providing hope amid climate despair

Last year, a landmark study revealed high levels of climate anxiety in youth. The study found that out of the 10,000 young people surveyed, nearly 60 percent said they felt “very worried” or “extremely worried” about climate change, with many stating that it made them feel sad, angry, afraid, or powerless. Nearly half of the participants reported that their feelings about climate change impacted their daily lives. 

“We’ve known from our previous research with children and young people around the world that they were distressed, that they were finding climate change terrifying. What we didn’t realize was quite how frightened they were. We didn’t realize the depth of the feeling. And we didn’t realize how that was impacting on their thinking and their daily functioning,” said study co-author Caroline Hickman, a climate-psychology researcher at the University of Bath.

Giving students a chance to learn about the science behind climate change, the human behaviors which have influenced it, and how we can solve it is essential as climate anxiety grips today’s youth. As the reality of climate disruption becomes more apparent each year, students need a sense of realistic hope. 

Finding reasons for hope in the midst of overwhelming climate despair helps guide young people through the challenges presented by climate change and motivates them to take action.

Youth are powerful voices for change. In recent years, youth from around the globe have united in demanding world leaders stop wasting time and heed scientific warnings and take urgent, ambitious action on the climate emergency. The unprecedented mass mobilization of youth has made it clear they intend to hold world leaders accountable at the ballot box. 

Header Image Credit: Kenny Eliason/Unsplash