Clean up clean up everybody everywhere.
Clean up clean up everybody do your share.
– Barney, Clean up song
Kids in school learn, early on, to be responsible for preserving their environments by taking care of class pets, learning about the life cycle of plants and yes, singing clean up songs. Together, these early exercises help our children develop a sense of community. President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord works against some basic lessons of preschoolers.
Science is taught in school to help young minds understand the world around them — not deny it. There has been rapid climate warming in the past few decades, and the last has been the warmest on record, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. But NASA doesn’t want you to just take their word for it. They point out that 97 percent of peer-reviewed journals show that “climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
Even a child can see the hypocrisy in Trump’s environmental policy.
“As of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country,” said Trump during the announcement in the White House Rose Garden last week.
Experts pointed out the illogic of abandoning the international pact. “If the agreement is nonbinding, then what burdens can it impose?” asked Chris Mooney of the Washington Post. With Trump having already gutted most of the regulations enacted under President Obama, his economic arguments for leaving the accord fell flat. The only logic the president follows is his own refusal to accept climate change science and the wrongheadedness of isolationism.
He doesn’t care that U.S. policy did an about-face on environmental science, globalism and what educators teach in school. Teachers use science to respond to children’s natural sense of inquiry and to common questions like “Why is the sky blue (or not)?” Trump can’t change facts, but he would change what we teach in schools if he could.
Teaching children why keeping the classroom clean is for the benefit of all is one of the first science lessons they receive. Being a good citizen means washing your hands, putting personal items in your cubby and returning items to where you found them. Getting the most out of common space requires shared responsibility. Reasons for keeping their play station tidy extend to the classroom, to the playground beyond and eventually to the city or town in which children live. Kids learn why protecting the environment is really an exercise in community preservation. By minimizing waste, we create conditions for living things to thrive. Withdrawing from the accord isn’t just an affront to science — it’s a slight to community ethics.
My 6-year-old son comprehends and recites, “reduce, reuse, recycle,” with the same level of intensity that I learned to “stop, drop and roll,” in the event I caught fire (apparently, fire accidents were a thing in the 1970s), because he understands the seriousness of global warming and community. I dare not put a plastic bottle in a trash bin. He expects everyone in the house to pick up litter that found its way next to our parked car. “Someone has to pick it up. Why not us?” he asks.
If a naturally egocentric kindergartener can see that America is not the world in itself, then I expect our leaders to be able to, also.
The Paris Climate Accord used to jibe with the U.S. Department of Education’s push to increase the number of students and teachers who are proficient in science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM subjects). The confirmation of man-made, adverse changes to the environment necessitated more scientists to save future generations. The misalignment between our federal goals abroad and what we teach in school puts us on an inevitable collision course.
In April, thousands of scientists took the streets for the March for Science to express their displeasure of Trump’s broad rejection of science that goes beyond his disbelief in climate change with a proposed 18 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health. His proposed budget would eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which gives out grants to renewable energy projects. And, of course, he seeks to cut the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31 percent.
But much more is at stake than limiting the national agencies charged with discovery, protection and innovation. We risk replacing young students’ pursuit of truth with fiction and self-defeating ideas of isolationism.
Trump needs to understand that just as countries are inextricably linked in our global world, so are our domestic policies. There is a growing list of policy decisions that show an indifference to or even a disdain for children. Voucher programs have hurt students academically, while draconian cuts to food stamps, disability aid and health care threatens students’ very lives. And immigration policing and climate change denial tell us plainly what Trump thinks of children and schools.
I wonder what kind of clean up song Trump learned:
Clean up, clean up — when it’s convenient for my space
Clean up or don’t, science won’t help me win the race (election)
Who would have thought Barney would become a revolutionary? Sing Barney, sing.