Unfortunate students stuck in the middle of a debate they don’t understand

wnyc_square_logoNew York’s flagship public radio station WNYC recently broadcast/published stories about conflicts over teaching evolution and climate change in classrooms across the country. I spent quite a long time talking with a reporter about the situation here in Florida, especially in relation to the Religious Liberties and Instructional Materials bills approved by our state legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature. The first couple of stories went live today.

One story is on a show called The Takeaway: New Law Would Let Citizens Fight to Get Climate Change, Evolution Out of Florida Classrooms. It’s an interview with Glenn Branch from the National Center for Science Education. Overall, it’s a good, informative story. But I feel some nuance was missed, as indicated in the story’s title. Even those who promoted the bill have said it’s not about getting subjects they don’t like out of the science classroom, but rather trying to balance them with other views. And the bill doesn’t directly impact the curriculum but rather just the instructional materials, such as textbooks. I’m not sure if the reporters who I’ve talked with aren’t understanding that or they are choosing to simplify the topic for their audiences.

upset-studentThe other story is on a show called The United States of Anxiety: “Would you debate gravity?”: climate change in the classroom. The main story can be played right at the top of the page, but there are several other audio clips further down the page, including mine roughly halfway down. My clip features some fumbling pauses in the beginning because I was trying to think of the best way to tell my story without providing too much detail that might identify and embarrass or upset the story’s subjects if they were to happen to hear it. The main point I was trying to make was that some poor students find themselves stuck in the middle between a teacher and his/her family. The student brings a question to me but as I delve deeper into the question with the student it becomes clear that the student is just relaying it from a parent and doesn’t even understand the question.

But there was more that I told the reporter that didn’t make it into that 28 second clip. I said that’s a horrible situation for the student and I refuse to use the child as a messenger. Instead, I decline to answer the question, explaining that I want to hear questions that the student comes up with, not the parent. What I teach is a very basic foundation and this is probably the first time students are hearing about climate change in an academic setting. The questions the parents come up with are full of misleading inaccuracies and outright false information that would take forever to try to explain to a child who has just learned for the first time from me what the greenhouse gases are (other than carbon dioxide) and what the albedo effect is. Honestly, I think the students are relieved that I take that stance.

With that in mind, I want to point out that if the instructional materials bill is signed into law by the governor, we’re going to see the situation I described much more often.

I was told that more clips from my long interview might be used in other stories still to come.

(Cross posted at Florida Citizens for Science.)