On Thursday, June 3, new state learning standards were announced that will make New Jersey the first state in the nation to require that climate education be taught in all grades, K-12.First Lady of New Jersey and Climate Reality Leader Tammy Murphy long has been a champion of the importance of climate education in schools, and worked hard to ensure that these new rules were adopted in New Jersey. A few short months ago, this announcement would have been, in all probability, national (if not international) news.But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and with protests, unrest, and turmoil boiling over all across our country, this announcement didn’t get the attention, nor the headlines, it deserved. Not only will climate education be required in science classes in New Jersey, but it will be taught in seven subject areas, beginning in 2021, with final implementation of these new standards by 2022. These subjects include: twenty-first century life and careers, comprehensive health and physical education, science, social studies, technology, visual and performing arts, and world languages.As we move through this unprecedented time in our collective history, how we keep lessons from COVID-19 and the importance of doing the hard work of understanding and addressing racial and social injustice – codifying these into law and developing formal and informal educational tools – will be vital. Connecting the dots between our climate crisis, poverty, race, access to affordable health care, and health outcomes of adults and children across the US remains critical to keeping the nation focused on the hard work that needs to be done, each step of the way. The New Jersey climate education requirements in cross-curricular subject areas are important opportunities to teach children how we can change the crash course we are on with our natural world, at the same time as we begin to heal our cities, towns, states and our nation. They can serve as a model for other states around the country.Imagine for a moment in visual and preforming arts, a play, a story, or a poem written to include these connections and acted out by our children. How powerful and empowering this will be – not only for our children but for us as parents.At the same time, the connections between pollution, negative health impacts, and the zip code you are born into are clear – and are now even clearer for all to see. If these connections seemed hidden before, COVID-19’s direct and disproportionate impacts on communities of color and low-income communities in close proximity to sources of pollution like power plants, incinerators, and industrial centers are being proven through peer-reviewed studies. Teaching these connections, in social studies, in technology, and in twenty-first century life and careers opens up incredible learning opportunities.Developing this new curriculum for New Jersey schools, and the ways school districts use and adapt existing and proven resources will be important to the success of this endeavor. According to the June 3 New Jersey Department of Education announcement, these new standards are “the foundation which districts will build coherent curriculum and instruction.”However, we do not want to see added teaching requirements being put on already stretched educators, without added or redirected financial and staff resources to implement them. Real dollar allocations will be needed in state and local budgets to ensure a successful implementation of these new standards.Washington State can serve as an example. Over the past few years, Washington has committed, as part of its state budget, millions of dollars for teacher training on climate science. New Jersey will need to train and retrain teachers across multiple subject areas on the new curriculum requirements. A recent nine-part, in-depth reporting project by the Hechinger Report looked at how climate change is currently being taught around the county. The report showed how most textbooks are coming up short, and that a lot of schools rely on individual teachers to create, find, and implement curriculum that they may not have the background or training to teach.How New Jersey implements these exciting new standards, including providing teacher training, curriculum development, and accessibility, will be important to watch as a model for the nation. As we talk to our kids about the importance of democracy and being involved in our democratic systems, New Jersey parents will need to stay on top of local school board decisions and recommendations regarding these new climate education requirements.
As concerned citizens, parents should consider running for school board, in whatever state they live in, all across the country.
By showing our children how important this is to us, we also let them know we care about their health, our state, and the relationships and interconnectedness between global issues like climate change, democracy, equity, and racial and social justice.