Idaho Legislators Don't Want Science Teachers Teaching Climate Change [Updated]

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Shane Matson has been teaching physical science to middle and high schoolers in Leadore, Idaho, for nearly 30 years. Climate change has been a part of his lessons for about the last two decades. And until recently, it’s never really been a big deal.

“I started to consider this is a great topic to talk about with science because it is being researched, and we are studying it, and there is a viable background in it,” said Matson to Earther.

Students at Leadore School—or any Idaho public school, for that matter—might not be learning much about climate change in the future, though. The Idaho House Education Committee voted Wednesday to remove most mentions of climate change from these proposed K-12 science standards teachers have been trying to implement since 2015, reports The Boise Weekly. The big piece the state removed is where human use of fossil fuels is connected to global warming.


The committee voted 12-4 on the measure, which also removed all “supporting content” from the standards. That means this 70-page document for science standards is likely to lose nearly half of its content, said Glenn Branch, the deputy director for the National Center for Science Education, which has been advocating for updated standards. This removal of climate change mentions came even after teachers came together last year to water down the standards and include non-human causes of climate change to please those who might be hesitant.

Now, this isn’t the last stop on the standards’ legislative trip. The state Senate Education Committee must also take a look at the new standards. However, the way the state’s administrative rules work, if the Senate and House can’t agree on a decision, the original rule stands.* This wouldn’t make Idaho the first state to challenge climate science in the classroom. So have Oklahoma and New Mexico, but things are a little different this time around.

“Idaho stands out because I don’t think anywhere else we’ve seen this surgical removal of climate change content,” Branch told Earther.


Even if these watered-down standards go into effect, teachers can teach whatever they want in their classrooms. These standards simply present the bare minimum of what educators have to teach. The thing is that in a state like Idaho—a red state where only 24 percent of Republicans believe climate change is mostly human-caused—improved standards would have encouraged teachers like Matson to teach climate change.

Matson is familiar with general science topics like biology and chemistry, but he doesn’t feel comfortable blaming climate change on human activity (even though scientists agree human activity is the dominant cause of climate change today). He says he wants his students to come to their own conclusions.


“I like to bring up a couple sides of the issue so we can talk about climate change, what climate change is, and what probably is causing climate change,” Matson told Earther. He plans to avoid the topic of climate change if these standards go through. But he’s just one teacher.

Aaron McKinnon teaches science at South Junior High in Boise, Idaho, and he doesn’t plan to stop incorporating climate change into his science classes. Although he doesn’t teach environmental science, he won’t shy away from the processes that drive climate change when they come up and when students ask.


“I’m going to keep teaching what I teach,” McKinnon told Earther.

If these new standards become the norm, at least elementary school teachers in Idaho will have this picture book as a guide to make sure climate change stays the classroom.


[h/t Boise Weekly]

Update 2/23/18: The Senate Education Committee voted Thursday 6-3 to leave the climate change references within the science standards. If the Senate and House committees can’t agree on the text, then the original rule (with all mentions of climate change) goes into effect with no changes.


* Correction: This post initially said the House rule stands, but we were oh so confused. The original rule would stand, so now that the two chambers are in disagreement, they need to come up with a compromise, or the original rule will go through with all mentions of climate change. (Yay.)

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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