In a move spearheaded by environmentalists, the Portland Public Schools board unanimously approved a resolution aimed at eliminating doubt of climate change and its causes in schools. “It is unacceptable that we have textbooks in our schools that spread doubt about the human causes and urgency of the crisis,” said Lincoln High School student Gaby Lemieux in board testimony. “Climate education is not a niche or a specialization, it is the minimum requirement for my generation to be successful in our changing world.” The resolution passed Tuesday evening calls for the school district to get rid of textbooks or other materials that cast doubt on whether climate change is occurring and that the activity of human beings is responsible. The resolution also directs the superintendent and staff to develop an implementation plan for “curriculum and educational opportunities that address climate change and climate justice in all Portland Public Schools.”
Bill Bigelow, a former PPS teacher and current curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools, a magazine devoted to education issues, worked with 350PDX and other environmental groups to present the resolution. “A lot of the text materials are kind of thick with the language of doubt, and obviously the science says otherwise,” Bigelow says, accusing the publishing industry to bowing to pressure from fossil fuels companies. “We don’t want kids in Portland learning material courtesy of the fossil fuel industry.” In board testimony, Bigelow said PPS’ science textbooks are littered with words like might, may and could when talking about climate change. “ ‘Carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles, power plants and other sources, may contribute to global warming,’ ” he quotes Physical Science published by Pearson as saying. “This is a section that could be written by the Exxon public relations department and it’s being taught in Portland schools.” Bigelow is also the co-author of a textbook on environmental education, A People’s Curriculum for the Earth. Asked if this resolution will cause the district to buy new textbooks, such as his book, Bigelow said Rethinking Schools is a nonprofit, not a money-maker. “What we’re asking for is not: Buy new stuff,” he said. “What we’re looking for is a whole different model of curriculum development and distribution.” Bigelow said the district already has climate-change literacy curriculum, such as at Sunnyside Environmental School, and he wants that knowledge to spread.
School board member Mike Rosen introduced the resolution. He also leads NW Ecoliteracy Collaborative, a project focused on environmental curriculum standards. However, he says that work has been on hold. “I have become concerned about its ability to make progress and not have a conflict with being a school board member,” Rosen said, noting that he is now instead working part-time for the Audubon Society of Portland. “I don’t want there to be a conflict between my school board work and this nonprofit.”