May 24, 2016 by

CREDIT: shutterstock

Climate education in Oregon just took a big step forward.

Last week, the Portland Public Schools board voted to eliminate the use of any textbooks or other materials that are “found to express doubt about the severity of the climate crisis or its root in human activities.”

“A lot of the text materials are kind of thick with the language of doubt, and obviously the science says otherwise,” Bill Bigelow, a former Portland public school teacher, told the Portland Tribune. “We don’t want kids in Portland learning material courtesy of the fossil fuel industry.”

In his testimony to the board, Bigelow quoted from the book Physical Science, published by Pearson.

“‘Carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles, power plants and other sources, may contribute to global warming,’” he read. “This is a section that could be written by the Exxon public relations group and it’s being taught in Portland schools.”

Other books have also been found to cast doubt on climate science: A review of sixth-grade textbooks in California, for instance, found that the books “framed climate change as uncertain in the scientific community — both about whether it is occurring as well as about its human-causation.”

The resolution, which was created by the Portland chapter of 350.org and other community members, also directs the school system’s superintendent to work with students, teachers, and members of the community to come up with a plan to ensure all Portland public schools include climate change and climate justice in their curricula.

“It is essential that in their classes and other school activities students probe the causes and consequences of the climate crisis — as well as possible solutions — in developmentally appropriate ways, and, from pre-K through 12th grade, become ‘climate literate,’ the resolution states. “Portland Public Schools’ oft-stated commitment to equity requires us to investigate the unequal effects of climate change and to consistently apply an equity lens as we shape our response to this crisis,” it continues.

Portland’s resolution cements the city’s commitment to teaching public school students about climate change. But Oregon as a state has already made it clear that it values accurate science education. In 2014, the Oregon State Board of Education voted to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of guidelines that were developed by 26 states — including Oregon — and several science and education groups. The standards, which were released in 2013, represent the first major overhaul of U.S. science education in more than a decade and include guidelines on teaching climate change and evolution in schools. So far, 18 states have adopted the standards.

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But the standards have faced considerable opposition — often over their inclusion of climate science — in other states. And there’s evidence that many students across the United States aren’t being taught accurate climate science in schools: A February survey, which collected data from 1,500 U.S. science teachers, found that 30 percent of teachers said they taught students that climate change is “likely due to natural causes,” and another 31 percent said they teach climate change as unsettled science.

Still, there is good news on the climate education front: The same survey found that three out of four science teachers spend at least an hour on climate change in their classrooms, so most students are at least learning about the issue, even if the instruction isn’t always of the best quality. And other cities are starting to take climate education seriously — the New York City Council, for instance, adopted a resolution similar to Portland’s in April. The resolution calls on the New York State Department of Education to include climate change lessons in public schools’ curricula.

“Superstorm Sandy severely affected the New York City area forever changing its landscape and its people,” the resolution states. “Many believe climate change will increase such storms and New York City’s students need to be educated about these issues.”

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