“HOW CLIMATE CHANGE IS TAUGHT IN AMERICA”

FRONTLINE debuts its first-ever book, titled Miseducation: How Climate Change is Taught in America by Emmy-Award winning investigative journalist Katie Worth. She joins us tonight with damning evidence based on original investigative reporting revealing that in much of the country, children learn that climate change may or may not actually be happening — even when alarming evidence that it is can be found in their own backyards.

For more information on Miseducation: How Climate Change is Taught in America, click here.

Aired on November 18, 2021.

Peril and Promise is an ongoing series of reports on the human impact of, and solutions for, Climate Change. Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS,' I AM JACK FORD.

SO, ARE AMERICAN SCHOOLS MISLEADING CHILDREN ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?

AND IF SO, WHY?

THOSE QUESTIONS ARE THE SUBJECT OF A NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST KATIE WORTH.

THE BOOK IS CALLED 'MISEDUCATION: HOW CLIMATE CHANGE IS TAUGHT IN AMERICA.'

IN IT, SHE ARGUES THAT POLITICS MORE THAN SCIENCE DETERMINES WHAT MILLIONS OF STUDENTS ARE BEING TAUGHT AND AS A RESULT COULD, INDEED, BE CATASTROPHIC.

JOINING US NOW TO TALK ABOUT HER BOOK AS PART OF OR ONGOING PERIL AND PROMISE INITIATIVE, REPORTING ON THE HUMAN STORIES OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS SOLUTIONS, IS AUTHOR AND INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER KATIE WORTH.

KATIE, WELCOME.

SO GLAD TO BE HERE.

LET ME START WITH WHERE YOU START IN THE BOOK, BECAUSE IN THE INTRODUCTION, YOU TALK ABOUT GOING BACK TO ONE OF YOUR SCHOOLS.

TELL ME WHY YOU WANTED TO START WITH THAT AND WHY IT WAS SO SIGNIFICANT.

WELL, SO, I'VE BEEN REP REPORTING, STARTED THIS REPORTING PROJECT ABOUT WHAT KIDS LEARN AND -- IN SCHOOL ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE AND THEN IN NOVEMBER 2018, ACTUALLY, IT HAPPENS TO BE THREE YEARS AGO TODAY, THE TOWN OF PARADISE BURNED DOWN IN THE CAMP FIRE, YOU MAY REMEMBER IT.

IT WAS DEVASTATING.

IT BURNED 90% OF THE BUILDINGS IN THAT TOWN.

I'M FROM THE COUNTY WHERE PARADISE IS.

SO, I'M FROM A FOUND CALLED CHICO.

SO, OF COURSE ONE OF MY FIRST THOUGHTS ONCE THE FIRE WAS OUT WAS, WHAT ARE KIDS IN THIS COMMUNITY LEARNING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE WHEN THEY HAVE ARGUABLY BEEN REALLY -- THEIR LIVES HAVE ALREADY BEEN SHAPED BY IT?

SO, I WOUND UP GOING TO -- TO MY ALMA MATER, CHICO JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL AND TALKING TO A SCIENCE TEACHER THERE WHO IS VERY INTERESTED IN TEACHING CLIMATE CHANGE AND SHE TOLD ME THE STORY ABOUT HOW ONE YEAR A COUPLE YEARS AGO, SHE WAS WORKING WITH HER STUDENTS ON SOLUTIONS PROJECTS.

THEY'D ALREADY HAD A WHOLE CLIMATE LESSON AND ALL OF A SUDDEN THEY STARTED COMING IN AND NOT KNOWING -- OR SAYING LIKE, WELL, THIS ISN'T REAL ANYWAY AND IT TURNED OUT THAT THEY HAD BEEN LEAVING HER CLASS WHERE THEY WERE LEARNING CLIMATE SCIENCE AND WALKING INTO A HISTORY TEACHER'S CLASS WHERE -- WHO WAS SHOWING THEM VIDEO, YOUTUBE VIDEOS, ALLEGING THAT THE CLIMATE CRISIS WASN'T REAL, THAT IT WAS A HOAX, THAT IT WAS ABOUT SCIENTISTS WHO WERE GRABBING FOR POWER AND SO THEY WERE GIVING THESE TWO -- IT WAS 11-YEAR-OLDS, SIXTH GRADERS, WHO WERE GETTING MIXED MESSAGES IN THEIR LIVES THAT THEY TRUSTED ON THIS ISSUE.

AND THERE WERE SO MANY POINTS OF TENSION OVER THIS ISSUE.

IT WAS REALLY ONE EXAMPLE OF MANY THAT I CAME ACROSS IN MY REPORTING.

TELL US ABOUT, IN TERMS OF YOUR REPORTING, BECAUSE YOU SPENT A LOT OF TIME AND YOU TRAVELED, TELL US SOME OF THE THINGS YOU DID, JUST QUICKLY, TO PUT TOGETHER THE INFORMATION THAT FORMED THE BASIS OF THE BOOK?

YEAH, SO, I TRAVELED TO A COUPLE DOZEN CLASSES -- I OBSERVED A COUPLE DOZEN CLASSROOMS AND A COUPLE DOZEN COMMUNITIES AROUND THE COUNTRY.

I BUILT A 50-STATE DATABASE.

I READ THROUGH DOZENS OF TEXTBOOKS.

I REALLY DID BOTH QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS OF THIS AND, YOU KNOW, AS I SAID, WHAT I FOUND WAS, THERE'S JUST -- THIS WAS A POINT OF FRICTION IN A LOT OF COMMUNITIES AND WHAT I -- AND ESPECIALLY IN PRETTY CONSERVATIVE COMMUNITIES, SO IN KIND OF THE REDDEST STATES AND THE REDDEST PARTS OF THE BLUEST STATES -- I'M FROM CALIFORNIA AND THAT'S WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN MY HOMETOWN, YOU KNOW?

THERE'S REALLY A RED/BLUE DIVIDE.

YOU CAN KIND OF ROUGHLY GUESS WHAT A KID IS GOING TO LEARN BY CLIMATE CHANGE JUST BY KNOWING WHETHER THEIR STATE LEGISLATURE IS RUN BY REPUBLICANS OR DEMOCRATS.

LET ME TALK ABOUT SOME OF YOUR FINDINGS, BECAUSE THERE'S SO MUCH IN HERE AND IT'S A MARVELOUS BOOK, WELL RESEARCHED AND PEOPLE SHOULD READ IT.

IT'S IMPORTANT.

LET ME TALK ABOUT SOME OF YOUR FINDINGS.

AND I GUESS THE OVERARCHING QUESTION IS, ARE TEACHERS ACTUALLY KNOWINGLY PROVIDING MISINFORMATION TO THEIR STUDENTS OR ARE THEY DOING THIS WITHOUT KNOWING THAT THEY'RE DOING IT?

I THINK IT'S FAR, FAR, FAR MORE THE LATTER.

I THINK, YOU KNOW, A LOT OF TEACHERS DIDN'T LEARN ANYTHING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE THEMSELVES WHEN THEY WERE GROWING UP AND THEN THEY'VE HEARD, YOU KNOW, FROM -- FROM THEIR NEWS SOURCES, FROM THEIR POLITICIANS, THAT THIS MAY OR MAY NOT BE HAPPENING AND, YOU KNOW, SO, THEY -- THEY AREN'T -- THAT'S WHAT THEY'RE GOING TO PASS ONTO THEIR KIDS.

YOU KNOW, TEACHERS ARE ALL OVER THE SPECTRUM, SO, IT'S NOT SOME KIND OF, LIKE, FROM THE TEACHER'S POINT OF VIEW, IT'S NOT AN INTENTIONAL MISEDUCATION, IT'S JUST KIND OF PASSING ON MISINFORMATION THEY THEMSELVES HAVE ABSORBED A LOT OF THE TIME.

OR JUST COMPLETELY LEAVING IT OUT OF THE LESSON PLANS BECAUSE THEY KNOW IT WILL BE A POINT OF TENSION.

OR, YOU KNOW, IT'S JUST A MATTER OF THEM JUST NOLL HT HAVING THI TRAINING TO TEACH IT.

TALK ABOUT THE PROBLEM OF A BOTH SIDES-ISM APPROACH TO THIS IN THE CLASSROOM.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT AND WHY IS THAT CONCERNING TO US?

YEAH, SO, THE -- THERE HASN'T BEEN A TON OF RESEARCH INTO HOW TEACHERS TEACH CLIMATE CHANGE, BUT THERE HAVE BEEN A COUPLE OF SURVEYS AND THEY FIND THAT ABOUT A THIRD OF TEACHERS TEACH IT AS A DEBATE.

AND, YOU KNOW, IT'S -- THAT'S NOT -- DEBATE IS ACTUALLY PRETTY GOOD PETAGOGY IN CLASSROOMS, BECAUSE IT ENGAGES KIDS AND MAKES THEM THINK AND THINK CRITICALLY AND PAY ATTENTION, BUT IF YOU'RE HAVING KIDS DEBATE SOMETHING THAT'S NOT A DEBATE, SO, YOU KNOW, YOU'RE NOT HAVING KIDS DEBATE, YOU KNOW, MITOSIS OR, YOU KNOW, THE CELL THEORY, YOU KNOW, BECAUSE THERE'S THIS ABUNDANCE OF EVIDENCE FOR IT AND DEBATING IT MIGHT MAKE THEM THINK THAT THERE ISN'T, RIGHT?

AND THE SAME IS TRUE WITH CLUE MAT CHANGE.

THERE'S AN ABUNDANCE OF EVIDENCE AND THERE'S NO EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY AND SO TO HAVE KIDS DEBATE IT IS DOING A DISSERVICE, BECAUSE IT PLANTS THIS IDEA THAT, YOU KNOW, EVEN WITH AN ABUNDANCE OF EVIDENCE, IT'S -- IT MAY OR MAY NOT BE TRUE.

YOU TALK ALSO ABOUT THIS PROBLEM BEING COMPOUNDED BY MESSAGING.

BY GROUPS AND ORGANIZATIONS WHO ARE JUMPING IN AND ACTIVELY TRYING TO MOVE THE CONVERSATION AWAY FROM THE TRUTH OF CLIMATE CHANGE.

GIVE US A SENSE OF SOME OF THESE ORGANIZATIONS AND HOW ARE THEY GOING ABOUT DOING THAT?

YEAH, WELL, SO, THERE'S THIS LONG HISTORY OF FOSSIL FUEL -- THE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY INSERTING THEIR MESSAGES INTO CLASSROOMS AND YOU KNOW, AT ONE POINT, THEY ACTUALLY -- THERE WAS A PLAN MADE TO INSERT CLIMATE DENIAL INTO CLASSROOMS IN A LEAKED MEMO THAT 'THE NEW YORK TIMES' PUBLISHED IN 1998, THEY SAID THAT THEY WANTED TO, QUOTE, ERECT A BARRIER AGAINST FUTURE REGULATION OF FOSSIL FUELS.

SO, THERE WAS KIND OF AN ACTUAL CONCERTED CAMPAIGN BY THE FOSSIL FUEL COMPANIES FOR A LONG TIME TO MAKE KIDS DOUBT CLIMATE CHANGE.

BUT THEN THAT, YOU KNOW, FOSSIL FUEL COMPANIES ARE NOW MORE OR LESS ONBOARD, THEY ARE NO LONGER PUSHING DENIALISM --

IS THAT TRUE?

BECAUSE I SUSPECT PEOPLE WOULD BE -- MIGHT NOT KNOW THAT, BUT ARE YOU SEEING GENERALLY SPEAKING THE FOSSIL FUEL-BASED COMPANIES ARE SAYING, OKAY, IT DOES EXIST?

YEAH.

THERE WAS -- IT TOOK A LOT OF PUBLIC PRESSURE, BUT THEY AT LEAST PUBLICLY NOW SAY CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL, WHICH IS SOMETHING THAT THEIR OWN SCIENTISTS HAVE BEEN SAYING SINCE THE '50s, BY THE WAY, BUT YEAH, THEY AT LEAST PUBLICLY ARE SAYING, YEAH, IT'S REAL AND WE'VE GOT TO DEAL WITH IT.

NOW THEIR STRATEGY IS SAYING, BUT THE ANSWER TO IT ISN'T TO REGULATE US, IT'S TO MAKE INDIVIDUALS TAKE THE BUS INSTEAD OF, YOU KNOW, DRIVING TO WORK OR MAKE IT AN INDIVIDUAL -- BECOME VEGAN, YOU KNOW, THEY'RE TRYING TO PUSH ANY ACTION ONTO INDIVIDUALS RATHER THAN ON THEIR CORPORATION.

BUT -- BECAUSE THERE CAME TO BE TOO MUCH PUBLIC PRESSURE TO CONTINUE THE DENIALISM, BUT IN THEIR PLACE, THERE ARE THESE CONSERVATIVE THINK TANKS, ONE OF THEM IS BASED IN CHICAGO, IT'S CALLED THE HEARTLAND INSTITUTE, AND A FEW YEARS AGO, IT SENT OUT CLIMATE DENYING MATERIAL TO, IT CLAIMED, EVERY SCIENCE TEACHER IN AMERICA.

SO, YOU CAN IMAGINE THAT A LOT OF TEACHERS RECEIVED THIS AND JUST IMMEDIATELY THREW IT AWAY, BUT SOME RECEIVED IT AND TOOK IT IN GOOD FAITH AND STARTED USING IT IN THEIR CLASSROOMS.

IT'S ALL ABOUT CLASSROOMS AND THERE'S A FASCINATINGS PART OF THE BOOK HERE WHERE YOU TALK ABOUT THE FACT THAT PUBLISHERS WILL DISTRIBUTE DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THE SAME TEXTS TO DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE COUNTRY.

EXPLAIN THAT TO US.

YEAH, YOU KNOW, SO THE WAY THAT TEXTBOOK MAKERS CONDUCT THEIR BUSINESS IS THEY'RE REALLY TRYING TO SELL TEXTBOOKS AND SOME STATES, NOTABLY TEXAS AND FLORIDA AND CALIFORNIA, ALL HAVE STATEWIDE ADOPTION, SO, A TEXTBOOK MAKER PRODUCES A TEXTBOOK, THEN A COMMITTEE, BASICALLY, LOOKS AT THE TEXTBOOK WITH A FINE TOOTH COMB AND THEN EITHER APPROVES IT OR REJECTS IT.

AND THAT IS A MATTER OF, OF COURSE, MILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO THESE COMPANIES.

SO, WHEN THEY'RE MAKING THESE TEXTBOOKS, THEY HAVE IN MIND, WILL THIS BOOK PASS THE SCRUTINY OF THE TEXAS TEXTBOOK COMMISSION?

AND, YOU KNOW, AND SO THEY KIND OF, YOU KNOW, THEY REALLY -- ARE VERY CAREFUL IN THEIR LANGUAGE ABOUT POLITICAL ISSUES.

AND I TALKED TO SEVERAL PEOPLE WHO WORKED IN THE INDUSTRY WHO SAID THAT THERE WERE EXPLICIT CONVERSATIONS ABOUT HOW TO PRESENT CLIMATE CHANGE IN THEIR TEXTBOOKS.

AND AS A RESULT, WHAT WE FOUND WHEN WE READ THROUGH ALL THESE TEXTBOOKS WAS THAT THERE'S A LOT OF CLIMATE DENIAL LANGUAGE IN IT.

SO, THERE'S GOOD INFORMATION ABOUT CLIMATE SCIENCE, BUT THEN THERE WILL BE A PARAGRAPH THAT SAYS, YOU KNOW, WHILE MANY SCIENTISTS BELIEVE THAT CLIMATE CHANGE IS CAUSED BY HUMANS, SOME BELIEVE THAT IT'S NATURAL AND IT'S BEING CAUSED BY SOLAR CYCLES, ET CETERA, WHICH, THERE'S NOT A SHRED OF EVIDENCE FOR.

IT'S NOT ACTUALLY BASED ON SCIENCE.

BUT THEY'RE INCLUDING THAT, SO, YOU KNOW, WHEN THAT CONSERVATIVE TEXAN TEXTBOOK COMMISSION LOOKS AT IT, THEY'LL BE LIKE, OKAY, WELL, IT INCLUDES BOTH SIDES, RIGHT?

SO, THERE'S A TEXTBOOK THAT'S MADE SORT OF WITH TEXAS AND LOUISIANA AND FLORIDA IN MIND AND THEN THERE'S NOW A SECOND TIER OF TEXTBOOKS THAT GOES INTO MUCH MORE DEPTH ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE FOR THE CALIFORNIANS OF THE WORLD WHO REALLY DO WANT A ROBUST EDUCATION ABOUT CLIMATE SCIENCE.

KATIE, THERE IS SO MUCH IN THIS BOOK THAT IS WORTHY OF OUR CONSIDERATION, WHERE WE NEED TO BE DEALING WITH IT, ESPECIALLY AS PARENTS, TO START A BETTER GRASP OF WHAT YOUR CHILDREN SHOULD BE LEARNING, BECAUSE WHAT YOU TALK ABOUT IN THE BOOK, THERE COULD BE DIRE CONSEQUENCES FOR OUR CHILDREN, ENTIRE GENERATION OF CHILDREN NOT TO BE TAUGHT ABOUT THE REALITY OF CLIMATE CHANGE.

ONCE AGAIN, THE BOOK IS CALLED 'MISEDUCATION: HOW CLIMATE CHANGE IS TAUGHT IN AMERICA.'

GO GET IT, GO READ IT.

GET IT INTO YOUR SCHOOL.

KATIE WORTH, APPRECIATE YOU TAKING THE TIME TO CHAT WITH US.

YOUR RESEARCH IS COMPELLING AND SHARING YOUR THOUGHTS AND YOUR FINDINGS WITH US HAS BEEN VERY PROFITABLE FOR US.

KATIE, THANK YOU SO MUCH.

YOU TAKE CARE NOW.

YEAH, THANK YOU.

MY PLEASURE.

BYE-BYE.

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