Some students don’t want to hear about climate change

A science teacher’s experience in coal country is illuminating the problem science teachers are facing in 2017: many kids don’t want to learn science they don’t agree with, the New York Times says.

James Sutter’s student chastised him for not being open to other opinions on climate change.

“It’s not about opinions,” he said. “It’s about evidence.”

In another class on the subject, the student ran out of the classroom.

“It was just so biased toward saying climate change is real,” the straight-A student told the Times. “And that all these people that I pretty much am like are wrong and stupid.”

Sutter, who’s only been on the job for a year, is the first teacher at the school to teach climate science.

After fleeing Mr. Sutter’s classroom that day, Gwen never returned, a pragmatic decision about which he has regrets. “That’s one student I feel I failed a little bit,” he said.

As an alternative, Gwen took an online class for environmental science credit, which she does not recall ever mentioning climate change. She and Jacynda had other things to talk about, like planning a bonfire after prom.

What’s the problem here? In an unrelated op-ed today, Michael Lynch, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, says that we no longer see ourselves as living in the same world as those with whom we disagree. It’s a flaw of both the left and right, perpetuated by social media’s ability to satisfy our confirmation biases.

Part of the thought is that we don’t really need to find common ground with those who disagree with us because, after all, they’re just wrongheaded idiots. And besides, as social media and talk radio constantly remind us, we have plenty of compatriots right here. We have the numbers — or so both the left and the right like to tell themselves.

But there’s more to it than that. As the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild details in her recent book, “Strangers in Their Own Land,” a popular “deep story” of many groups in America right now is that their views are not represented in the common narrative, but are rather ignored and shamed. Seeing yourself as living in a broader common reality can therefore feel a bit traitorous to your own narrative. Professor Hochschild sees this as the deep story of the right. But I think this same ideology works on the left as well. The result is that the entire country is starting to seem like the character from “The Matrix,” who preferred his life in the constructed reality to life in the real world. We, too, it seems, would rather close our eyes, wrap ourselves in our cozy information bubbles and live in bad faith. It just feels better to take our perception as reality, to at least try to convince ourselves of Berkeley’s slogan, esse est percipi — to be is to be perceived.

“Democracies don’t work if we don’t acknowledge that we all live in the same world, facing the same problems — even if we disagree over how to solve them,” he says.

Related: A Letter to My High School Physics Teacher (Scientific American)