David Seymour describes new climate change curriculum as 'state-organised bullying of kids'

The new climate change curriculum for schools has been described as "state-organised bullying of kids" by MP David Seymour, who says it will "take us backwards as a society". 

Seymour, leader of the ACT Party, said he's concerned the curriculum doesn't allow for students to debate the science, telling Magic Talk he fears it's designed to suppress opposing views. 

"There is a supporting document that is all about how to deal with kids that disagree and one of the things it says is that if you've got a difficult kid that disagrees just change the seating plan."

Seymour was referring to the "wellbeing guide" provided to teachers, which tells them: "With angry or obstructive students (depending on your understanding of them), consider seating plan, offer choices for ways to proceed, or share authority by delegating a student."

The Epsom MP also criticised an activity in the syllabus called "myth buster role-play" where one student will play the role of an 'activist' for climate change and the other a 'sceptic'. 

"I just think that sort of exercise, given that it doesn't provide any sort of resource or credence to why people might be sceptical, amounts to state-organised bullying of kids," Seymour said. 

"It's a terrible, terrible thing because when you see stuff like this you start to understand why New Zealand kids are sliding down the world rankings in maths and reading and, ironically, also in science."

The latest OECD assessment of academic performance of 15-year-olds around the world showed Kiwi students are falling behind in maths, science and reading. 

ACT Party leader David Seymour.
ACT Party leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"I think one of the biggest challenges we have in New Zealand and across the Western world is the ability to have civil disagreement and respect that people have other views," Seymour added. 

"What this curriculum does and the supporting document does is basically says 'this is the way to think and if anybody disagrees is has built-in strategies for suppressing their views'.

"I just think that's a real shame and it's taking us backwards as a society."

The new climate change teaching resource was announced on Sunday by Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Climate Change Minister James Shaw. 

Shaw, co-leader of the Green Party, said earlier this week that the Government had received high demand from teachers wanting resources to teach climate change as a subject in schools.  

"We're getting a lot of demand from teachers so the fact that there were some resources that had been developed, once it was piloted and some changes were made, it seemed appropriate to be rolling out." 

Seymour said while it's not a bad thing for students to learn facts about climate change so they can understand what they hear in the news, he said the curriculum doesn't allow room for any debate. 

"Let's do it in a way that actually allows kids to respectfully disagree rather than one that is basically set up to clobber them into a way of thinking, because that doesn't help them at all."

Climate Change Minister James Shaw.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw. Photo credit: Newshub

Louis Holbrooke from right-wing lobby group the Taxpayers' Union had a similar view. 

"A student who displays scepticism, instead of being taken seriously, they're assumed to be displaying a psychological or emotional reaction to the distressing information," he told Magic Talk. 

"It's certainly not teaching them how to think because there is no room for debate."

Shaw said students will be able to disagree, but they will "have to go to town against the entire New Zealand scientific community and suggest that they were wrong". 

He said it is "based on the science so you can dispute that all you like". 

Beef + Lamb New Zealand has also criticised the syllabus for advising students to eat less meat and dairy to help save the planet. 

"We support providing our children with information on climate change... however, we are concerned about the simplistic approach that has been taken and sweeping recommendations provided without context," said head of nutrition Fiona Windle. 

"The recommendation to reduce meat and dairy consumption comes with no framework as to what represents a healthy diet."

The resource, called 'Climate Change - prepare today, live well tomorrow', includes video, text and guidance. It will be available for students in years 7-10 and will be optional. 

You can read more about the syllabus here