Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Climate Illiteracy

My friend Bill Bigelow, an outstanding social science teacher and editor for Rethinking Schools, wrote an op ed piece published in the Oregonian last Sunday. Bill argued that the Portland Public Schools were failing their students with an inadequate textbook for Global Studies that contained only three paragraphs on global warming. He further stated that teachers were not encouraged to write and develop their own curriculum on this important topic. Therefore it follows that many Portland students are globally illiterate. When the piece came out, I followed its reception online and was shocked to find how many nut cases are out there. Not only are they in denial about global warming, but their vicious comments suggested that Bill Bigelow's concerns were nothing more than the "leftist" ramblings of an "ex-hippy" and that he has a radical/liberal agenda for compromising the minds of Portland's student population. Some even went so far as to suggest global warming was an anti-capitalist/democratic conspiracy. They cited Al Gore's profit motive, and ranted that social science teachers should stay out of physical science.
My main concern is the de-skilling of teachers when school districts use this kind of packaged curriculum. I wrote a follow-up letter to the editor which, fortunately was published today. It follows:

Education climate change

Bill Bigelow's piece on the struggle to get school administrators to realize that the packaged curriculum they advocate is promoting illiteracy about climate change is compelling and timely.

Not only does he explain the source and the inadequacy of the texts used, he illustrates the difficulty that innovative teachers face when they attempt to create and present comprehensive, accurate, highly motivating lessons that invite students to think deeply about crucial issues.

What's also implicit in Bigelow's comments is the fact that these test-driven, de-skilling, corporate curriculum outfits like Houghton-Mifflin and McDougal Littell appeal to administrators because they can control the measurable bits of information necessary to elevate test scores. What happens when the test scores they covet prevent the education of the next generation to the extent that they are unable to solve these problems when the time inevitably comes?

As a 33-year veteran and now supervisor and mentor of beginning teachers, I have witnessed the pressure administrators exert on young teachers to "shut up and teach what you're assigned to teach."

How will this top-down approach ever attract the "best and brightest" to the profession? When the economy rebounds and districts are scrambling for new teachers to replace those retiring, we'll need an educational climate change too.

Southeast Portland

More comments to follow.

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