Portland Schools Ban Textbooks that Question Climate Change

For those of us who live in the states, Portland is kind of like the cool older sister you also kind of hate. True she prides herself on a green life and introduced you to the wonders of kombucha, but she also sneers at soda cans and fried foods and all the delicious fatty goodness we have left in this world. Even so, time and time again, Portland and the surrounding state of Oregon prove more progressive and cool than other states. Adding to it’s history or enlightened-older-sister moves, today the city of Portland has decidedly rolled its eyes at current curriculum and ditched school books that question global warming.

It might sounds like no more than a ‘slow clap’ for Portland, but given that 30% of US teachers still tell their students that severe climate change is due to “natural causes”, we’re holding back the urge to clap and raise our glasses (of kombucha) to Portland.  At the risk of sacrificing fatty goodness (and betraying my California roots), the city’s school policy provides a welcomed change.


Portland Middle Schoolers promoting climate awareness earlier this year (Image courtesy of Press Herald).

In a proposal put forward to the Portland board of education, supporters argued that 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.” Currently, Portland textbooks use words like “could”, “may”, and “might” in reference to human involvement in climate change – words, according to supporters, that deflect environmental criticism and skirt the issues that desperately require discussion. Although a little bit of scepticism is always healthy in academia, “there is overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that the climate crisis is created by human beings,” and tip-toeing around a known fact is detrimental to students’ education.

Editor of Rethinking Schools magazine and advocate for the prososal, Bill Biglowe, outlined the issues in a recent Huffington Post blog by looking at current textbooks. He cited a number of ambiguous excerpts, one which suggests that carbon emission “may contribute to global warming,” and another, following the text’s meager three paragraphs on climate change, which states “not all scientists agree with the theory of the greenhouse effect.”

 Porltand’s had it


Championed by Biglowe, teachers, parents and students alike, the proposal found sweeping positive reception and the recent vote churned out a unanimous pass. With the new wave of support, the board now plans to mull through current text books, weed out inaccuracies, and replace dated books with ones that teach the true severity of climate change.

However, despite the unanimous vote the proposal has received varying forms of critique. Manys worry that the new regulation will deter some parents from enrolling their children, while others are cringing at the mere mention of a ‘ban’. Admittedly, we’re all a bit wary of the word, and not unreasonably so. For Portland, the question going forward will be how it can deliver accurate information to it’s students, while continuing to create an open dialoge concerning the facts and opinions that inevitably accompany a discussion on climate change.


Featured image courtesy of Oregon Live.