“Climate science literacy bills in Washington fail.”

“Climate change education bills die in Rhode Island.”

“Italian students will soon be required to learn about global warming. American kids? Not so much.”

These are just a few of the recent headlines taken from science education organizations, such as the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), who have been “working with teachers, parents, scientists, and concerned citizens at the local, state, and national levels to ensure that topics including evolution and climate change are taught accurately, honestly, and confidently.” Defending the teaching of topics such as evolution and climate change in K–12 schools is not new to the NCSE. Alongside these heroic organizations stands Katie Worth, a former investigative journalist for PBS’s FRONTLINE and a stalwart defender of teaching the science of climate change. In her book Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught in America, Worth describes various groups at the local, state, and national levels who have fought hard to prevent the teaching of climate change to K–12 students in every state in the country. Although most of these initiatives have failed, unfortunately quite a few have survived the legislative process. Through meticulous research, Worth reviewed hundreds of textbooks, designed and built a 50-state database, and traveled to more than a dozen communities where she interviewed students and teachers about what is being taught about climate change in America’s K–12 public schools. Her findings are both interesting and alarming.

The book reads like a suspenseful detective novel as Worth connects the pieces of the climate-change-education-thwarting puzzle by following the money and influence of oil corporations, local and state legislatures, school board officials, libertarian think tanks, conservative lobby groups, and textbook publishers—all of whom have taken their lead and marching orders from previous fights over the teaching of evolution and the advertising of tobacco products. In the first chapter, “The Science and the Doubt,” Worth highlights the disconnect between the nature of science (NOS) and some science teachers’ misconception that science’s openness to change is its weakness, rather than one of its strengths. Her interview with one such science teacher is eye-opening to say the least. Chapter 2, “The Teachers,” recounts a few other teacher interviews and focuses on how little time is spent on the topic of climate change in the science classroom and how pedagogical strategies such as classroom debate, if done poorly when climate change is considered, can lead to student misconceptions about human-induced climate change. Worth states, “No teacher would encourage a class to debate cell theory, when there is no evidence for a competing theory, and neither should students be asked to debate whether significantly raising the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does or does not heat the planet.”

Chapters 3–6 (“The Evolution,” “The Standards,” “The Textbooks,” and “Selling Kids on Fossil Fuels”) highlight the history of science content, focusing on the effect of cancel culture on the teaching of evolution; the nature and development of K–12 science standards in the United States; and the influence of the multimillion-dollar “energy education” campaign by big oil companies, such as the American Petroleum Institute’s decades-long, shrewd, and at times unethical messaging blatantly rejecting the science of climate change. In the closing chapter, “The Victory,” Worth highlights a few of the minor climate change education victories that have been achieved by local, state, and national education boards, while at the same time stating that “the American public’s perspective on global climate change remains wildly out of step with that of scientists.” She goes on to say that “as of 2019, 30 percent of Americans falsely thought global warming was mostly natural.” Worth ends the chapter by warning the reader that “every year, state lawmakers propose legislation that would allow teachers to miseducate their students about human-induced climate change” and that there are still “troves of misleading educational materials [that] are available online.”

Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught in America is an informative book with richly investigated text and an impressively detailed reference section. It takes the reader on an engaging, data-laden, historical, science education journey, exposing us to the widespread ignorance about the scientific consensus, to ideological pressures, and to the disinformation campaigns promoted by the fossil fuel industry, textbook publishers, school board officials, and other ill-intentioned groups. As a practicing biologist and science educator, I remain hopeful that due to the heroic efforts of investigative reporters such as Katie Worth, books like this will continue to serve as platforms for further conversations about the importance of climate change education, and I think they should be essential reading for teachers of science and other subjects alike, who are concerned for the future of humanity.

Paul Narguizian
California State University, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California