A recent study in North Carolina has proven that schoolchildren can change the world. Danielle Lawson of North Carolina State University, conducted a two-year study that involved intergenerational learning between children and their parents. In an effort to bring awareness to the increasing concerns of climate change, students aged 10-14 were given a special curriculum that involved getting them to discuss the global concern with their families. Lawson says, “It gives children a structure to communicate with older generations in a way that hopefully brings us together to work on climate change.”
Students were encouraged to ask their parents questions regarding changes they had noticed in the area over time. After interviewing their parents on whether or not they thought the sea level was rising, or that weather patterns had changed, adults who were once unconcerned about global warming took a general interest in the topic. Researchers were surprised that the biggest change seemed to come from parents who identified with the conservative party. John Cook of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, has stated that previous research has shown the positive effects of environmental education on parents.
Utilizing the Curriculum
Lawson is quoted as saying, “Engaging kids like this not only gives them the knowledge to prepare themselves to deal with climate change in the future, it empowers them to make a difference now.” The curriculum that was provided to students lists five different modules which have lesson objectives such as collecting and graphing local weather and climate data, listing key factors that contribute to climate, understanding how climates affect wildlife, and encouraging the communication of the importance in “doing our part” to make a difference.
During the study, a control group made up of 12 teams of schoolchildren were taught using the standard curriculum. Beforehand, both children and parents were asked how worried they were about the global crisis with a range of -5 to 5. Participants were to rate their concerns on both a personal scale and a national scale.
Have Minds Been Changed?
The results of the study showed that the views of most moderate or liberal parents changed little though there was a slight increase in concern. On the contrary, when parents were asked at the end of the curriculum how concerned they were, the level of alarm from the conservative parents had gone up on average two points. However, Lawson was unsure as to whether this was a direct effect of the curriculum or the influence of media and growing concern from the public.
Polls conducted in recent years suggests that a large portion of our population is still unconcerned with the issue of climate change. Many are still skeptical. Being that is a topic that is not commonly talked about amongst friends and family, says Cook, education is a valuable and resourceful way to break the silence. In the future, Lawson plans to research whether schoolchildren can also influence their extended families and local politicians.
Lawson, D. F., Stevenson, K. T., Peterson, M. N., Carrier, S. J., Strnad, R., & Seekamp, E. (2018). Intergenerational learning: Are children key in spurring climate action? Global Environmental Change, 53, 204–208. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2018.10.002