This guest post is by Luke Sinnick, a teacher of A-level Biology at Greenhead College, Huddersfield.
The Global Warming Policy Foundation’s recent report written by Andrew Montford and John Shade is titled ‘Climate Control: Brainwashing in Schools’. The report seeks to show “examples of serious errors, misleading claims, and bias through inadequate treatment of climate issues in school teaching materials”. Here, I outline my thoughts on the report as a teacher of A-level Biology.
As the report is critical of ‘misleading claims’ and encourages teachers to take a more critical approach to education I will highlight a few misleading claims that I feel Montford & Shade make themselves.
Throughout the report they have selectively used evidence to support their case and are demonstrating exactly the kind of ‘inadequate treatment’ of the issues that is the focus of their criticisms of the education system.
They start with the suggestion that promoting environmental awareness entails “the corruption of the curriculum in schools in support of a radical worldview that is almost certainly at odds with the majority view in our society”. However, there are repeated polls showing that the ‘majority view’ is that human activity is affecting the climate and that levels of concern about the effects of climate change remain high.
In Part 2, Montford and Shade criticise the Geography Association’s suggestion “to encourage children to think about issues such as the alleged imminent exhaustion of fossil fuels”. However, depletion of oil reserves in 40 years is a reality suggested by groups not normally considered promoters of ‘radical worldviews’ such as Institute for Mechanical Engineers.
They also discuss problems with the CGP revision guides and their apparent bias.
Firstly, CGP are known for their ‘informal’ style and inclusion of (bad) jokes. For example, one guide suggests that “methane is a stinky problem but an important one”. We could analyse this statement for its factual accuracy (considering methane is actually odourless) but that would not be a fruitful exercise when writing a serious policy paper.
Secondly, at the bottom of the page on ‘global warming’ in the CGP guide, it is stated that ‘global warming is still just a theory – lots of scientists putting together pieces in a jigsaw. The theory has not been completely accepted yet – so be careful when describing what we actually know’.
To present this as a ‘radical worldview’ full of ‘bias’ is again, in their words, highly ‘misleading’.
They criticise the inclusion of questions such as “explain actions religious people might take to look after the planet” and the marking criteria as being biased. However GCSE religious studies papers regularly include questions such as “Explain briefly why some people have a civil marriage ceremony“. This doesn’t imply a ‘brainwashing’ of children towards a civil marriage ceremony. Again, the selection of material is itself a biased and misleading analysis.
They only use a tiny selection of comments at the bottom of a TES survey as an example of ‘what teachers think’ when they could have equally contrasted these views with an article in The Guardian expressing a very different view if they genuinely sought a balanced perspective.
Finally, they conclude “gone are the days when the education system hoped to generate young people equipped to form their own opinions on complex scientific, sociological and political issues”.
Although its not clear which days they refer to, I agree this would be an amazing achievement for education. Teaching children to critically analyse the political influence of the data they are given could ironically be conceived itself as a ‘radical worldview’ due to its fundamental link with effective democracy as excellently explained by authors such as Henry Giroux .
We teach a huge number of separate scientific facts to children during the AQA A-level Biology course which I am familiar with, some of which we do have time to discuss and criticise, some we unfortunately do not. This would be more apparent to Montford and Shade if they had further experience in education or engagement with the teaching profession when writing such a report.
I do think critical analysis in science education should be promoted and encouraged but the choice of which facts to be analysed should be based on the strengths, weaknesses and complexity of the science involved, not the bias of writers such as Montford and Shade.
They may be interested to know I also taught a lesson this year to a high achieving A2 Biology class where I did actually give equal time to non teacher-led activities looking at arguments for and against man made climate change, providing a range of data ‘for’ and ‘against’ (including showing them ‘the great global warming swindle’ they suggest in their report), and got them to vote at the end which side they supported.
Their critical analysis led them to unanimously support a human influence.
 Giroux, H (2011) On critical pedagogy. Continuum books