Climate Change Earth Day Poll: 4 In 5 Parents Want It In Schools As students around the globe participate in Earth Day, a new NPR/Ipsos poll finds 55% of teachers don't teach or talk about climate change and 46% of parents haven't discussed it with their kids.
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Most Teachers Don't Teach Climate Change; 4 In 5 Parents Wish They Did

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Most Teachers Don't Teach Climate Change; 4 In 5 Parents Wish They Did

Most Teachers Don't Teach Climate Change; 4 In 5 Parents Wish They Did

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Here's some Earth Day news for you. More than 80 percent of parents in this country strongly support the idea of their kids learning about climate change in school. That's according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll that was released today. Teachers, as a group, are even more concerned about climate change and more supportive of teaching it. But there's a disconnect between what most Americans say they want and what is actually happening.

Anya Kamenetz from NPR's education team joins us now. Hi, Anya.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: First off, why'd you do this poll, and what were you looking to find?

KAMENETZ: So science, of course, tells us that it's children as well as future generations that are going to experience the most severe effects of climate disruption. And we are also seeing an international student-led movement, the Global Climate Strike. So we wanted to know, are Americans supportive of teaching and talking to children about global warming, or do they think it's too complicated or too scary for kids?

MARTIN: And what was the answer?

KAMENETZ: Well, so on the central question, the vast majority of people do support teaching children about climate change, including both Republicans and Democrats. Two-thirds don't think that you should need parental support - or parental permission to teach it. But, you know, on the other hand, even though 86 percent of teachers say, yes, we should teach about climate change, and even though most states have science standards that at least mention the topic, a little over half of teachers say they do not personally cover it in their classes.

MARTIN: So make sense of that. They like the idea of doing it, but they don't do it. Why?

KAMENETZ: Yeah. So, you know, 2/3 of teachers told us, of course, it's not my subject area. And, of course, teachers by and large tend to be overworked and under-resourced. However, Mallory Newell from Ipsos, which conducted the poll for us, said that there were also differences in attitude found in the poll between the teachers who cover or talk about climate change and those who don't.

MALLORY NEWELL: For some teachers, that might just be a way to rationalize why they're not talking about it.

KAMENETZ: For example, she said that teachers who don't talk about climate change were less likely to believe that it's a serious threat and were less comfortable answering students' questions about it. On the other hand, we also did a call-out. Then we heard from teachers from Florida to Hawaii that are covering the topic in their classes, and that includes not just science teachers. It's all levels, all subjects - preschool, English, home ec, public speaking, even Spanish language. Like Rebecca Meyer. She's an eighth-grade English teacher in the Bronx, and she assigned her students what's called a cli-fi, or climate fiction novel, called "Not A Drop To Drink."

REBECCA MEYER: They were very engaged. I mean, they loved it. They learned so much that they didn't know.

KAMENETZ: Another factor here might be that almost 1/3 of teachers told us that they're worried about parent pushback when talking about climate change.

MARTIN: But your poll would indicate that most parents are supportive. Right?

KAMENETZ: Yes. That's true. Although, we did talk to teachers who work in areas around the country where, you know, a big chunk of families might be climate deniers, or maybe they work in the fossil fuel industry, so it's a sensitive subject.

MARTIN: So I mean, if teachers aren't teaching climate change, are parents taking it upon themselves to talk to their kids about it?

KAMENETZ: Here's this other really interesting disconnect. So 84 percent of parents of kids under 18 say, yes, kids should learn about climate change. But just 45 percent said, yes, I speak to my own kids about it. So, like, I talked to a mom of three in Colorado who says she's personally very concerned about climate change. They even put solar panels on the house. But she hasn't talked to her kids about it. And now that we're asking, she's wondering why she has not.

MARTIN: All right. Anya Kamenetz with NPR's education team. Anya, thanks. We appreciate it.

KAMENETZ: Thanks, Rachel.

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