Climate Change: Teach Students How to Think, Not What to Think

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is Taking Climate Change seriously in our schools, what are your best tips for teaching about climate change.”

April 22, 2018, is recognized as Earth Day, a global event which began in 1970. Today, close to 1 billion people in 192 countries take part in the largest “civic-focused day of action in the world.” (Earthday.org) From endangered species to climate change, Earth Day campaigns are vast and span a wide-range of political, religious, and debatable topics. Students across the world will likely learn and partake in activities around these campaigns in celebration of Earth Day, like planting trees and taking care of gardens. Cleaning local parks, walking to school instead of driving, or raising money for the White Rhino; on April 22, many students will be helping to make a difference in the world.

BUT…

I challenge educators around the globe to think differently this Earth Day. Whether it be endangered species or climate change, our job as educators should not be planning activities for students to participate in or bestowing information upon them about the destruction of the planet; instead, on this civic-focused day, educators around the globe should focus on creating advocates. Our world needs young people who have the skills and resources to objectively look at an issue, evaluate and analyze multiple viewpoints, and articulate their own opinion.

We need to teach students how to think, not what to think.

The depletion of natural resources and climate change impact every human being on this planet, but it is also a political and religious topic which has multiple viewpoints. Doing a quick search on the internet provides users with hundreds of articles, videos, and advertisements aligned to both sides of the issue. There are as many “experts” claiming global warming is real as there are “experts” claiming that it is a hoax. Where does this leave educators and students?

First, I believe that technology has not only changed the way we communicate but also the access to information individuals have at their fingertips.

Second, because of this, it is imperative for educators to equip students with skills to swim in this digital sea of information with a degree of healthy skepticism.

Third, so that we help to create an empathetic global generation that can advocate for themselves and others.

So instead of having students walk to school instead of drive on Earth Day, teach them how to evaluate and analyze the information they find on the web about climate change (both sides of the issue). Answer questions such as: Is this a reliable source? What is the author’s bias? What evidence is used to back their claim? Can I find this information multiple places? What do I think?

Flood their environments with examples of advocacy campaigns, multiple modes of communication, and experts to get advice from. Answer questions such as: Now that I have my opinion and the evidence to back it up, what are my next steps? How do people take an idea and create a movement? Which forms and modes of my message will be best to use? How can one person be an advocate for themselves and others?
And support action designed by students. Earth Day, activism, movements that transform the way our young people think rarely are a direct result of an event that the teacher planned. To empower student advocates, efforts must stem internally and be supported by the adults they are surrounded by. Student action that will carry over into their adulthood must be a process that they experience from the start, what do I think? and why does it matter? to the very end. To have students participate in events on Earth Day on a deep and transferable level, we must teach them how to think, not what to think and empower them to create the movement.