Global Warming Debate Heats Up
May 27, 2012
By Georgie Bridger
Class of 2012
At a time when the teaching of global warming curriculum in high school classrooms nationwide is coming under fire, Ojai Valley School’s environmental science program is continuing to explore the critical impact of rising temperatures on the planet’s ecosystems.
The controversy stems from a belief, held by many, that global warming should not be taught in schools, with certain political groups seeing the subject as invalid and disproven.
But at OVS, Advanced Placement environmental science is sticking to its curriculum, with a unit dedicated to the consequences of human impact and the drastic changes that the planet is going through.
AP environmental science teacher John Wickenhaeuser teaches the class in a way that allows students to think independently about the matter, presenting the facts and encouraging students to critically examine the evidence they find.
Mr. Wickenhaeuser believes it is important to expose students to the scientific facts, especially in the face of growing opposition to the teaching of global warming.
“I try to back in to the problems and ask students to find evidence if its happening or not,” Mr. Wickenhaeuser said. “It is important for students to think critically.”
Nationwide, political groups that don’t believe that global warming is happening are targeting the curriculum. Many school districts are restricting the opinions of teachers, forcing them to limit material to satisfy the demands of the public and parents.
In Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas and South Dakota teachers now have to highlight the unit as a scientific controversy, along with other disputed issues such as human cloning and the origins of life.
Closer to home, the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education in Los Alamitos, California sparked controversy when board member Jeffrey Barke lead fellow trustees in a movement to restrict the teaching of global warming.
The Orange Country Register reported that Barke had grown concerned about global warming being as taught as fact and wanted students to receive a balanced view on the subject.
“There are those who believe that global warming is a fact, created by man's impact on the environment,” Barke was quoted as saying. “There are others on the conservative side who believe it's overhyped and politically motivated, and the science is not solid.”
The school board unanimously voted last year that global warming must be taught from two perspectives. The policy would have forced AP environmental teachers to present a balanced curriculum, subject to approval.
After accusations of injustice and ignorance from influential figures across the state, the policy was quickly revoked.
Alternatively, the Los Alamitos school board pushed an initiative aimed at ridding political influence from the classroom, instead highlighting that teachers should spark critical thinking in classes.
In other schools locally, district teachers said they have not felt pressured by the government to change their curriculum.
Nordhoff teacher Jeff Sloneker said his high school touches upon global warming in geoscience and chemistry classes with its main focus being in the environmental fields studies class. Global warming is viewed in many different directions through this class, mainly focusing on air pollution and the release of carbon dioxide along with solid waste and landfills, and modern agriculture.
Although Sloneker has not felt pressure to change his classes in a significant way. small changes have been made in the last couple of years.
“In the last year or two we have moved in to the description of 'global climate change,' ” Sloneker said. “We don’t typically call it global warming in lectures, but it does appear that way in the texts.”
At OVS, AP environmental science has been a strong part of the curriculum at OVS since 2007. Brought to life by Mr. Wickenhaeuser, the class focuses on controversial and world issues including global warming.
Mr. Wickenhaeuser focuses on the impact humans have on the planet; teaching that although the earth seems unfathomable in size, people’s actions can directly affect it, environmentally and economically.
As an educator he believes that students should at least be exposed to the issue as it can give them the tools to challenge the opinions of others.
“After all everyone is entitled to their own opinions and I enable them to challenge the facts,” Mr. Wickenhaeuser said.
Junior and AP Environmental student, Jack Beverly believes that global warming is a necessity in OVS’s curriculum, believing that students need to learn about imposing issues on our planet.
“Global warming needs to be taught; it is important part of our lives right now” Jack said. “You can’t deny scientific facts because its convenient. Students need to take responsibility for what our species has done to the planet.”