New Jersey Becomes First U.S. State To Require Schools To Teach Climate Change

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By: Kimberly White

New Jersey schools will now be required to teach students about climate change. 

The New Jersey State Board of Education has adopted new guidelines to incorporate climate change education throughout its K-12 learning standards. The newly adopted guidelines make New Jersey the first state in the U.S. to require schools to teach climate change. 

New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy led the initiative to integrate a climate change curriculum into the state’s learning standards, meeting with more than 130 educators over the past year. 

“In New Jersey, we have already begun to experience the effects of climate change, from our disappearing shorelines, to harmful algal blooms in our lakes, super storms producing torrential rain, and summers that are blazing hot,” said First Lady Murphy. “The adoption of these standards is much more than an added educational requirement; it is a symbol of a partnership between generations. Decades of short-sighted decision-making has fueled this crisis and now we must do all we can to help our children solve it. This generation of students will feel the effects of climate change more than any other, and it is critical that every student is provided an opportunity to study and understand the climate crisis through a comprehensive, interdisciplinary lens.”

Taught to more than 1.4 million students, climate change education will be incorporated across seven subject areas: 21st Century Life and Careers, Comprehensive Health and Physical Education, Science, Social Studies, Technology, Visual and Performing Arts, and World Languages. The guidelines for English Language Arts and Mathematics are not up for review until 2022. The Board of Education added climate change standards into the appendices of those subjects.

The new guidelines are anticipated to be implemented in September 2021. 

“I am incredibly proud that New Jersey is the first state in the nation to fully integrate climate education in their K-12 curricula,” said former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. “This initiative is vitally important to our students as they are the leaders of tomorrow, and we will depend on their leadership and knowledge to combat this crisis. We will need leaders who are not only well educated about the effects of climate change, but leaders who can craft the solutions for climate change and implement those solutions.”

In recent years, youth activists, scientists, and environmentalists around the globe have been sounding the alarm on the climate emergency. Prior to COVID-19, millions of kids have taken to the streets to challenge the status quo and demand that politicians and world leaders take action on climate change. 

In November 2019, Italy made international headlines when it became the first country in the world to incorporate climate change into its national curriculum. Italian schools will dedicate nearly an hour each week to discuss climate change. 

While not required, New Zealand has taken similar steps. Every New Zealand school will have access to learning materials about climate change. The program also includes tools for students to address feelings of ‘eco-anxiety’ and ways for them to plan activism. 

According to Tracey Ritchie, Director of Education at Earth Day Network, India, Brazil, Kenya, Colombia, Japan, India, Tanzania, Finland, and China have required environmental education in their national curriculums for several years.

“Now, we are seeing countries like Italy, Mexico and Finland evolve to focus more specifically on climate change education and how their students can be leaders in the fields of STEM [science, technology, engineering and math], sustainability and our rapidly evolving global economy,” said Ritchie.

New Jersey’s historic announcement places it among global leaders in climate change education. 

 “A top priority of my Administration has been to reestablish New Jersey’s role as a leader in the fight against climate change,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “The adoption of these standards across our K-12 schools is an important step forward that will strengthen the future of New Jersey’s green energy economy. By incorporating these standards into the nation’s number one public education system, we are creating a catalyst and knowledge base for new green jobs and teaching our children to become leaders who will propel New Jersey forward to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.”

The Planetary Press (@PlanetaryPress) | Twitter

This story was originally published in The Planetary Press and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Lead image courtesy of NOAA.


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