What Should High School Students Know?
by Bill Bigelow, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Katherine Cramer, University of South Dakota, Patrick Garry, Garfield High School, Jesse Hagopian, Garfield High School, Gloria Ladson-Billings, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Anand R. Marri, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Pedro Noguera, University of California, Los Angeles, Tamara Sober, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Mackenzie Wall, Sycamore High School
Economic inequality comes in many guises. One of the most egregious of these is the atmospheric colonialism enacted by the world’s so-called developed countries, which, increasingly, will lead to unimaginable suffering from the Arctic to sub-Saharan Africa, from Bolivia to Bangladesh, from Louisiana to islands scattered throughout the Pacific. No student should leave high school without knowing how the effects of the climate crisis are borne with brutal unevenness throughout the world. They should learn that the people who have had the least to do with causing this crisis are the ones who will suffer the most. And students should be able to articulate the other side of that equation: The world’s richest and most privileged are the most responsible for climate chaos and yet can best afford to insulate themselves from its worst effects.
In Portland, Oregon, where I taught high school social studies for almost 30 years, a collection of teachers, parents, students, and climate activists organized to persuade the school board to pass the most comprehensive climate justice resolution in the United States. Approved unanimously in May of 2016, the resolution lays out the school district’s aspirations for Portland’s students. Addressing the inequality of the climate crisis animates the school district’s approach: “Portland Public Schools’ oft-stated commitment to equity requires us to investigate the unequal effects of climate change and to consistently apply an equity lens as we shape our response to this crisis.”