Debating Al Gore

By Sean Cavanagh — August 25, 2008 1 min read
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Democrats have descended on the Mile High City this week for their party’s national convention (Ed Week coverage galore here and from our home page). One of the headliners will be former Vice President Al Gore, who is expected to speak the final night of the event, around the same time as presumptive nominee Barack Obama.

Gore is certain to carry a strong pro-environment message to the podium. But whatever your political views, if you’re listing speakers who’ve made a mark on what gets taught in the classroom over the past few years, you’d probably be hard-pressed not to at least include Gore’s name.

There’s little doubt that his film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” has brought public attention to climate change, and it’s shaped discussions in classrooms, too. As I’ve written, some teachers have used his documentary in their presentations of science and energy issues, and presumably, as an invitation to support or counter Gore’s conclusions. Some educators have said they’ve struggled to find reliable and age-appropriate curricular material on climate change. Many textbooks still don’t say much about it.

Efforts to talk about climate change—and to discuss possible links between human activity and global warming—can create a backlash, too. In the above-mentioned article, I noted that parents in at least one school district, in Washington state, initially fought efforts to show Gore’s film in class, viewing it as too political. I was reminded of this today, when I noticed the recent editorial in an Iowa newspaper: “Core Curriculum? It’s More LIke Gore Curriculum.”

(The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released last year, says evidence of global warming, and resultant sea and ocean temperatures and rising sea levels is “unequivocal.” It also says “there is very high confidence that the net effect of human activities” over the last few hundred years has been one of warming.

Gore also has many backers, of course, in the classroom and outside it. For that viewpoint, look no further than the editorial pages of the very same Iowa newspaper, where “The Energy Challenge Has Been Issued,” as stated by another op-ed.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.