Portland Oregon School Board Promotes Climate Justice, Bans Books That Deny Climate Change

The Portland Public Schools Board unanimously passed a motion Thursday evening that will ban all books and other teaching materials that cast any doubt on the concept of anthropogenic climate change. Books that contain any cautious language, suggesting that climate change might exist, or that it may be caused by human activity, will be banned in favor of materials that promote climate justice.

The Portland Tribune reports that students, teachers, environmentalists and even an author of an environmental education textbook spoke in favor of the motion to ban books and educational materials that hedge on the side of uncertainty when dealing with matters of climate change.

“It is unacceptable that we have textbooks in our schools that spread doubt about the human causes and urgency of the crisis,” Gaby Lemieux, a student at Portland’s Lincoln High, told the school board. “Climate education is not a niche or a specialization, it is the minimum requirement for my generation to be successful in our changing world.”

Video of the full meeting is available below. The motion to ban books and teaching materials that deny climate change, and introduce curriculum focused on climate justice, starts just before the 20 minute mark.

The resolution was introduced by school board member Mike Rosen, who is also the head of the NW Ecoliteracy Collaborative. Rosen said that he put his involvement in that project, which is focused on implementing environmental curriculum standards in schools, on hold due to a perceived conflict of interest.

“I have become concerned about its ability to make progress and not have a conflict with being a school board member,” Rosen told The Portland Tribune.

Since the board voted unanimously to pass the resolution, schools in the Portland Public School system will be required to excise all textbooks and other teaching materials that cast any doubt on existence of climate change or suggest any uncertainty as to whether the phenomenon is caused by human activities.

The specific language of the resolution directs the district to develop and implement, “curriculum and educational opportunities that address climate change and climate justice in all Portland Public Schools.”

Climate justice is a social justice issue that frames climate change not in physical or environmental terms, but as a social, ethical and political issue. Climate justice is based on the idea that climate change has a disproportionate effect on low-income and minority communities, which will now be taught to students in the Portland Public School system.

Bill Bigelow, former Portland Public School system teacher, author, and current curriculum editor for Rethinking Schools, told the Portland school board that the current text books read like they, “could be written by the Exxon public relations group.”

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

bill bigelow climate justice

Bigelow also read an excerpt from a textbook that pointed out that developing nations tend to pollute more heavily than developed nations, complaining that the text casts these nations as “eco villains.” He then compared texts that fail to teach climate change as settled science to a hypothetical curriculum that teaches spiders are mammals.

“We wouldn’t teach our students that Denver is the capital of Mexico, we wouldn’t teach them that a spider is a type of mammal, and we should not teach our students to be skeptical of the human roots of the climate crisis.”

Bigelow is the co-author of A People’s Curriculum for the Earth, which is the type of environmental education textbook that would be permissible under the directive to use textbooks and other teaching materials that address climate change and climate justice. However, Bigelow said that his support of the resolution was not an attempt to force the school district to buy copies of his book.

“We are not urging that you go out and buy new textbooks,” Bigelow told the school board. “What we need is a response from the school district that matches the urgency of this crisis.”

Bigelow suggested that at least one school in the district has already implemented a climate-change literacy curriculum that he approves of, although it is not clear what teaching materials that program uses or where they were sourced from.

Do you think that the Portland Public Schools Board made the right move in banning books that don’t teach anthropogenic climate change as settled science, or do you think there was some level of conflict of interest involved in the decision?

[Screenshot via YouTube]