My son wasn't offended for my sake (that would be wrong), but he rightly inferred from the substitute's comment that she was implying he was ignorant.
So here's the first thing we can learn from global warming--that being in the majority excuses people from exercising self control over what they say to others in the minority. Perhaps not a lesson to be taught in Language Arts but certainly a lesson worth talking about in Social Studies.
For too many children, the lessons of the civil rights movement, Jim Crow, and slavery before that are too distant for them to have first-hand knowledge of. What they do have first-hand knowledge of today, because we're in the middle of the debate is: What happens to minority opinions when politicians, Hollywood, and educators control the majority opinion?
The nice thing about global warming is students and open-minded teachers can discuss how the current state of affairs is similar to those of America's not-so-proud past, and no one's race, nationality, religion, skin color, or sexual preferences need to be offended. As a bonus the discussion avoids arguing the merits of anthropogenic global warming, requiring equal time, or relying on censored and politically correct and white-washed history books to lead the discussion for them.
Those last issues aren't critical to social studies, but they can be for Language Arts.
One of the issues alarming some is the apparent inability for college students to detect bias in what they read. Despite the availability of logic classes in college and some high schools, young adults can't always tell when they're being manipulated by media. In cases where it is impossible or impractical to give two sides of an argument equal time (ignoring a third or even fourth) it is important for students to detect bias in what they read, hear, and watch. Being able to identify the difference between weak and strong arguments, or logical and illogical ones, is important when time or material doesn't permit a more thorough investigation.
Some things in life are easy to understand, easy to remember, but easy to dismiss when it doesn't suit our emotions. Lost in the wailing over rising gas prices is everything we learned about supply and demand. Nearly everyone knows what supply and demand is, nearly everyone remembers it, but it doesn't make us feel better about paying $3.49/gallon for regular unleaded.
The same principal can be applied to man-made global warming and the difference between theory and fact (or in physics, theories and laws). Except for a few recent uprisings related to evolution vs. creationism, the fact remains that the first is a theory and the second is a belief. Until science can re-create evolution or predict what man's next evolutionary improvement is going to be, evolution must remain a theory. It matters little how many scientists believe it. Consensus does not make fact.
Let's visit some consensus theories of the past and see how well they held up:
- The sun revolves around the Earth
- Heavier objects fall more quickly than lighter objects
- The world is flat
- Germans are inferior Romans
- Europeans are inferior to Muslims
- Africans are inferior to Europeans
- Women are inferior to men (actually, that's still a tenet in some cultures)
- There are eight... no, nine... no, eight planets in our solar system
In the movie Men in Black, Agent K tells a young recruit that just learned extraterrestrial life exists:
"A person is smart. People are dumb. Everything they've ever "known" has been proven to be wrong. A thousand years ago everybody knew as a fact, that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on it. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."Now, when discussing man-made global warming and whether or not students must believe one way or another, teachers can reinforce the difference between theories and facts, and that theories don't require choosing sides. Teachers and school boards can reinforce mankind's responsibility for global warming is a theory, that increasing CO2 increases temperatures is a theory, circumstantial evidence does not equate to fact, consensus doesn't transform theory into fact, and guarding theories from criticism is bad science and bad policy.
And for that matter, bad law.
So without actually debating man-made global warming a lot can be learned just from how it's promoted. Its propaganda has lessons just as applicable to social studies and language arts as to science. And those lessons are just as worthwhile for students to learn as they are for adults to be reminded of.