Portland Schools Ban Texts That Cast Doubt on Climate Change

(Photo: George Hodan, Creative Commons)

(Photo: George Hodan, Creative Commons)

The Portland Public Schools board has voted to ban academic materials that raise doubts about climate change. The school district will remove any textbooks that suggest climate change is not occurring or that say human beings are not responsible for it.

“A lot of the text materials are kind of thick with the language of doubt, and obviously the science says otherwise,” said Bill Bigelow, a former Portland public school teacher. Bigelow says textbook publishers are yielding to pressure from fossil fuels companies. “We don’t want kids in Portland learning material courtesy of the fossil fuel industry.”

Bigelow, in a blog post for The Huffington Post, writes that Portland’s “climate justice” resolution is the first in the nation that commits a school district to forbidding materials that question climate change. The resolution is the product of a months-long effort by teachers, parents, students, and climate activists to make “climate literacy” a priority. Portland’s Board of Education approved the resolution unanimously.

Reportedly, several textbooks used by the school district, including one called “Physical Science: Concepts in Action,” use language that sows doubt about the severity and human causes of climate change. Other textbooks, like Mcdougal’s Modern World History, includes almost no information on climate change or on the challenges global warming poses for 21st century society.

The resolution was introduced by Portland schools boards member Mike Rosen, who, according to Kate Scanlon of The Blaze, leads a project called NW Ecoliteracy Collaborative, an initiative focused on changing the way climate change is presented and taught in public schools.

Interestingly, rather than mandating schools to adopt new textbooks that deal with climate change, the resolution imagines that the school board will work to create and disseminate new materials that will educate students about climate change in a rigorous and comprehensive manner.

The school district will commit itself to “professional development, curricular materials, and outdoor and field studies that explore the breadth of causes and consequences of the climate crisis as well as potential solutions that address the root causes of the crisis; and do so in ways that are participatory, imaginative, and respectful of students’ and teachers’ creativity and eagerness to be part of addressing global problems, and that build a sense of personal efficacy and empowerment…”

The resolution is not without controversy. According to FoxNews, a petition challenging the newly adopted resolution has been circulated by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. The petition has garnered 32,000 signatures, including those of 9,000 Ph.D.s, who argue that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of Earth’s climate.”

Additionally, the school board did not accept all components of the proposal. One part of the resolution demanded that the district discontinue all engagements with fossil fuel companies, and another rejected plank called for the district to weigh in on an infrastructure project being debated by the Portland City Council.