High school students, frustrated by a lack of climate education, are calling for change

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Several dozen young people wearing light blue T-shirts emblazoned with #teachclimate filled a hearing room at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul in late February. It was a cold and windy day, in contrast to the state’s nearly snowless, warm winter.

The high school and college students and other advocates, part of the group Climate Generation, called on the Minnesota Youth Council, a liaison between young people and state lawmakers, to support a bill that would require schools to teach more about climate change.

Ethan Vue, who grew up with drought and extreme temperatures in California, now lives in Minnesota and is a high school student pushing for the bill.

“I remember always seeing my classmates sweating, and even immersing themselves in water from the water fountains,” Vue said in a telephone interview, noting that climate change is making heat waves longer and hotter, but they knew none of it. that at school.

“The subject is being raised. All we learn about it is that there is global warming, a warming of the planet.”

In places where teaching is taught according to standards set by the National Science Teachers Association, state governments, and other organizations, many children learn about air quality, ecosystems, biodiversity, and land and water in earth and environmental science classes.

But students and advocates say that is not enough. They demand that districts, boards and state legislators need more education about planetary warming and would like to see it woven into more topics.

Some states and school districts have moved in the opposite direction. In Texas, the board of education rejected books with climate information. In Florida, school materials deny climate change.

“Someone could theoretically go through middle and high school without ever really recognizing the climate crisis,” says Jacob Friedman, a high school student in Florida who hasn’t learned anything about climate except in electives. “Or even acknowledge that there is a problem with global warming.”

That’s bizarre for Friedman, who experienced it firsthand when Hurricane Ian closed nearby schools and flooded homes in 2022.

A study conducted after the storm found that climate change added at least 10% more rainfall to Hurricane Ian. Experts also say hurricanes are intensifying faster because of the extra greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that collect heat and warm the oceans.

“What an unfair reality to have a young person graduate from high school,” says Leah Qusba, executive director of the nonprofit Action for the Climate Emergency, “without knowing the biggest existential threat they face in their lives.” will have to deal with life.”

More instruction on this topic is being added in some places. In 2020, New Jersey required climate change education at all grade levels. Connecticut followed, then California. According to the National Center for Science Education, more than 20 new measures were introduced in 10 states last year.

While some proposals require teaching the basic scientific and human causes of climate change, Minnesota’s bill goes a step further and requires state officials to guide schools in teaching climate justice, including the idea that the changes are hitting disadvantaged communities harder.

Some lawmakers say they’ve heard from school administrators and teachers that this goes too far.

“What was said to me is, ‘Why are we pushing a political perspective, a political agenda?’” Minnesota Rep. Ben Bakeberg, a Republican, said at a House Education Policy Committee hearing in March 2023. “That is a reality.”

The bill did not advance in the 2023 session. Now it won’t this year either. Supporters say they will try again next year.

Some students interested in climate are aware of this opposition and choose to campaign at their school rather than through the legislative process.

Three years ago, floods destroyed Ariela Lara’s mother’s village in Oaxaca, Mexico, while they were visiting. Then Lara came home to California and was hit by smoke-filled skies caused by wildfires that prompted thousands to evacuate or stay indoors for weeks.

But despite what she saw, Lara felt like all she was taught at school was recycling and the carbon footprint, a measure of a person’s personal greenhouse gas emissions.

So she went to the board of education.

“I really had to think about how I could go to the powers that be to really rewrite the curriculum that we were teaching,” Lara said. “It would become so tiring, because for me, I was the one really trying to enforce it.”

By the time her school offered Advanced Placement Environmental Science, Lara was too old to enroll in it. According to the Executive Board, AP Enviro does relate to climate change, but it is also broader.

When goal-oriented efforts don’t work, some students feel like they’re on their own.

For high school student Siyeon Joo, climate education seems like a no-brainer where she lives in Lafayette, Louisiana, which was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has been hit by several other intense storms and heat waves.

But Joo wasn’t exposed to climate change at her public high school, and a teacher there once told her it wasn’t real.

“I remember sitting in that classroom,” the now 16-year-old said, “being really angry because that was the system that was forced on me at the time.”

Joo had to enroll in a private school to learn about these subjects. Many students do not have that option.

Experts say climate material can be incorporated into lessons without burdening schools or placing responsibility on students. But as with legislation, that will take time that students say they don’t have.

“I was part of these communities that really just confirmed how much is at stake if we don’t take action,” said Lara, the student in California, recalling how important it would have been for her to be educated about her experiences. “You should be able to go to school and learn about the severity of the climate crisis.”


Alexa St. John reported from Detroit and Doug Glass reported from St. Paul, Minnesota.


Alexa St. John is an Associated Press climate solutions reporter. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, @alexa_stjohn. Reach her at ast.john@ap.org.


The Associated Press’ climate and environmental reporting receives funding from several private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s Standards for Working with Charities, a list of supporters, and funded coverage areas at AP.org.

Leave a Comment