New Jersey Adds Climate Change to Curriculum for all K-12 Students

The Department of Education says kids need knowledge and skills for a changing world.

Little boy looks in a microscope
Little boy looks in a microscope.

 @Terralyx via Twenty20

While the president of the United States is busy slashing environmental regulations, the state of New Jersey is quietly bringing climate change to the forefront of its public school curriculum. Every five years the state's learning standards are reviewed and updated, and this month saw an exciting change – the introduction of climate change studies across numerous subjects, effective September 2021.

While details have yet to be finalized, the climate change curriculum will be worked into seven subjects – 21st-century life and careers; comprehensive health and physical education; science; social studies; technology; visual and performing arts; and world languages. NorthJersey.com gives a few examples of what it may look like:

"Students in earlier grades could build a schoolyard habitat to see what improvements need to be made to guard plants, animals and humans from the effects of a warming planet. Middle school students could use resources from federal science agencies such as NASA to design projects that mitigate the impact of climate change on their communities. High school students can study heat islands or construct models showing the negative health effects of unusually high summer temperatures."

The Department of Education says the new standards will provide students with the "knowledge and skills to succeed in our rapidly changing world." It recognizes students' desires to learn more about climate change, saying the updated curriculum will "leverage the passion students have shown for this critical issue and provide them opportunities to develop a deep understanding of the science behind the changes and to explore the solutions our world desperately needs." 

Indeed, the decision seems to be broadly supported by the general public. NJ.com cites a 2019 IPSOS survey that found more than 80 percent of American parents and nearly 90 percent of teachers think climate change should be taught in school, and that this support crosses party lines: "Nine in 10 Democrats and two-thirds of Republicans supported teaching climate change, regardless of whether they had children or not."

Tammy Murphy, wife of New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, was a driving force behind the curriculum update. She called it "a partnership between generations" when she thanked the education board for its approval.

"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.” 

Residents of New Jersey are particularly affected by climate change, with sea levels rising along the coast at twice the global average, higher risk of flooding, and more intense storms hitting with greater frequency. It's more crucial than ever that the up-and-coming generation of leaders know about the challenges they face, so that's why New Jersey's move is so admirable. No other U.S. state has done the same yet, though it follows in the path of New Zealand's and Italy's recent curriculum changes.