On August 25, a Texan high school football player ended up in the ICU after experiencing heat stroke during a game. The tragedy occurred following one of Texas’s hottest summers in history. As classes resumed session and blistering temperatures persisted, school districts across the state were forced to adjust their programming to accommodate these brutal conditions, with some shifting to indoor recess and relegating outdoor extracurriculars to early in the morning or late at night. Similarly, a September heatwave prompted schools in the Northeast and Midwest to resort to half-day schedules or full cancellations. Elsewhere, in states like Florida and New Mexico, extreme heat coupled with failing HVAC systems made students and teachers feel unwell to the point that they were unable to learn or work. Scorching temperatures, which are lasting later and later into the school year, are a direct result of climate change.
While students and educators across the United States are burdened by the effects of extreme weather, they are actively being misled about its environmental causes. Earlier this year, the Texas State Board of Education “altered its internal guidance to schools… to emphasize the ‘positive’ aspects of fossil fuels in science textbooks.” In Oklahoma, as record-breaking heat forces schools to modify recreational activities and motivates lawmakers to implement updated development plans, school officials have simultaneously embraced inaccurate climate education. In September, Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters announced that schools could now use videos produced by conservative media group PragerU, whose content on climate change wildly distorts scientific facts. One PragerU video even claims that global warming is beneficial because it means “fewer people will die from cold.”
One explanation for these states’ hypocrisy is the looming influence of the oil and gas industry. In 2021, Texas oil and gas companies contributed $1.1 billion to the Texas Permanent School Fund, an endowment that distributes necessary funds to school districts. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board (OERB) incentivizes educators to adopt pro-oil and gas pedagogy by offering them free lesson plans and curricular reimbursements. In 2017, 98 percent of school districts in the state utilized OERB materials.
The hyperpolarization of climate change as a political issue is another cause of disinformation in the classroom. As the topic is considered a liberal talking point, rejecting even the existence of climate change has become politically necessary for Republican lawmakers hoping to maintain support from their voters. In the first 2024 Republican presidential debate, when moderators asked Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the other candidates to raise their hands if they thought humans contributed to climate change, DeSantis shot down the inquiry. He later assured voters that he did not put his hand up. However, despite his efforts to ignore the issue rhetorically, DeSantis signed a bill allocating $640 million to help Florida mitigate “the impacts of sea level rise, intensified storms, and localized flooding.” Still, as he is reckoning with worsening environmental conditions in his state, his administration is feeding children climate misinformation just like the governments of Texas and Oklahoma. In fact, Florida’s Department of Education also recently approved the classroom use of scientifically erroneous PragerU videos.
Government officials justify these decisions by claiming that climate change curricula force left-wing ideology onto schoolchildren. For example, former Lieutenant Governor of New York Betsy McCaughey wrote in a New York Post op-ed that teaching kids about climate change is indoctrination. Instead, she proposed students be taught age-appropriate topics like how to “identify mammals, reptiles, fish and birds, oceans, plants and deserts.” Yet teaching about climate change can be just as objective, and is just as important, as teaching about animal classifications and biomes. The claim that certain anthropogenic events contribute to global warming is a scientific fact. Moreover, presenting this information does not necessitate that teachers claim fossil fuel companies should be banned or that children should take a partisan stance.
On the other hand, there is nothing objective about school boards encouraging educators to share the benefits of fossil fuels. Likewise, there is nothing appropriate about states allowing teachers to show PragerU videos that compare citizens fighting against renewable energy measures to Polish Jews fighting against the Nazis. The contradictions underlying conservative arguments, along with the duplicity of legislators who support counterfactual curricula while preparing for climate-induced extreme weather events, reveal the irrationality of withholding climate science from students.
Accurate nonpartisan climate education is essential for equipping the next generation of leaders and innovators with the tools to address a world ravaged by global warming. Considering children are already collapsing on football fields and overheating in classrooms, lawmakers opposed to the prospect of climate education must escape their cognitive dissonance and put political divides aside to address this topic with the foresight it merits. American children deserve at least that much.