Climate Change in Schools? Not If Fox News Can Stop It

How do conservatives feel about climate-change curriculum for public schools?  The only good climate-change curriculum, they might say, is a dead climate-change curriculum.

We saw a telling example recently of this sentiment.  Fox News host Stuart Varney warned viewers recently that the Environmental Protection Agency was filling kids’ minds with all kinds of climate-change malarkey.  The watchdog Media Matters included Varney’s warning in a compilation of Fox climate-change riffs.  (It’s the first video clip on the MM page.)

Varney was reacting to a new set of climate-change lesson plans made available by the EPA.  Bad enough, Varney exclaimed, that such pernicious ideas had penetrated public education.  But even worse was the fact that such notions had been peddled by a bloated tentacle of the federal octopus.

The problem with this sort of federal overreach, guest Monica Crowley insisted, was that “We are paying for the indoctrination of these kids.”

The federal government ought not use taxpayer money to fund such controversial anti-science, Crowley warned.  The science itself was ridiculous, she insisted.  But worst of all was the fact that the federal government used taxpayer dollars to undermine proper public education.  As she concluded, “We wonder what kind of propaganda they’ll be teaching our kids, on our time.”

Host Stuart Varney agreed.  “And it is propaganda,” he insisted.  “On our time and our money.”

What can this sort of school jeremiad tell us about conservatism and American schooling?  I have two comments and I invite others.

First, we can see from this brief clip how climate change stands poised to become the new contentious science issue in America’s schools.  Conservative traditions of opposition to evolution education seem to be retooling for an eerily similar fight over the science of climate change.  Science-education activists such as those in the National Center for Science Education have warned about this for a while now.  Indeed, the NCSE’s Glenn Branch recently called climate change the “second front” in the culture wars over science education.

Second, Varney and Crowley offer us a near-perfect demonstration of a long tradition in conservative educational activism.  We might call this the “Not In My Kids’ School” (NIMKS) tradition.  Just as protesters have often fought against bad influences in their own back yards, so have conservatives often presented cultural issues as a threat to young people.  This rhetoric hopes to energize conservatives to fight against educational programs on the threat that such programs will soon be spreading their dangerous tentacles into schools everywhere.  Bad ideas are bad enough, the thinking goes.  But such notions are far worse, far more menacing, far more likely to mobilize activists, if such ideas can be portrayed as meddling with the minds of innocent young people.

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