Texans Call On School Board To Remove Climate Denial From Textbooks

CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

In this Sept. 17, 2013 file photo, pro-science supporters rally prior to a State Board of Education public hearing on proposed new science textbooks, in Austin, Texas.

Thousands of Texans are calling on the state legislature to fix errors in proposed science textbooks, many of which skew facts about climate change.

Petitions with more than 24,000 signatures from Texas residents were delivered to the Texas Board of Education and textbook publishing executives in Austin this week. The petitions call for changes in the state’s proposed new science textbooks, which are currently under review by the state’s Board of Education. Representatives from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), Climate Parents, and the Texas Freedom Network organized and delivered the petitions to the board, which will be voting in November on what textbooks to approve. As NCSE notes in a release, however, publishers can make edits to the textbooks any time before the vote occurs — changes the groups hope will occur as a result of the petitions.

“Teachers and school boards want textbooks that handle climate change accurately, and they are watching to see which publishers fix these errors,” Josh Rosenau, Programs and Policy Director at NCSE said in a release. “These petitions show that parents, teachers, students, and voters across Texas will make sure the board doesn’t let these errors slip into their classrooms.”

The petitions stemmed from a report published last month by NCSE which found multiple misleading statements relating to climate change in Texas’s proposed new textbooks. The report highlighted a section in a proposed sixth-grade geography textbook that states that scientists “do not agree” on the cause of climate change.

“Is it just another natural warming cycle like so many cycles that have occurred in the past?” The book asks. “Or is climate change anthropogenic — caused by human activity?” The book lays out evidence for each side of the climate change “debate” and then asks students, “which side’s evidence is more convincing?”

Rosenau wrote in the Washington Post Thursday that these prompts for students to debate the science behind climate change are especially disappointing because, though climate science is readily agreed upon by experts, there are multiple other aspects of climate change that can spark interesting, intelligent debate.

“There are active controversies over how to address climate change, who should bear the costs of averting some climate change or preparing for its consequences, and what the best ways are to prepare,” he wrote. “All of those touch centrally on the geography—political, economic, cultural, and physical—and cultures of today’s citizens, and of today’s students who will grow up to be tomorrow’s citizens. There’s no reason for a geography textbook to open up a debate about science to begin with, and especially not one that’s been resolved for over a decade.”

The report also highlighted an elementary school social studies textbook that contained a section that asserted that scientists believe the earth is experiencing a natural warming trend and that earth would “have some cooler years and things will even out.” This statement is misleading, the NCSE report notes, because this isn’t what climate scientists believe: 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the earth’s warming trends are caused by human activities, and don’t think it’s a trend that will even itself out naturally.

The fight over Texas textbooks’ treatment of climate change has heated up this year, largely because Texas’ new textbooks will likely be emulated by other states: Texas has the largest public school system in the country and also maintains strict standards for textbooks, so publishers tend to base their new textbooks around what Texas wants. The fight is also part of a larger battle over the Next Generation Science Standards, national guidelines for public schools around the country to consider when teaching science. Texas, along with some other largely-conservative states, isn’t likely to adopt the standards.