One of my main goals as a science educator is to help students to become scientifically literate citizens who are able to think critically in my classroom and throughout their lives. One group, the Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition, is trying to make this goal a bit more difficult for me by creating the illusion of a debate on the cause of climate change in classrooms. If they get their way, textbooks will be edited to cast doubt on the existence of climate change and the impact of human activity. This miseducation of children and selective editing of textbooks is damaging to public education and to our children.
This is not the first time an organization has attacked scientific or historical education. According to the Texas Freedom Network, there are many groups who have tried to censor textbooks by working “to delete information they disagree with and inject their own political ideology and religious values.” Read through their timeline of textbook censorship in Texas in order to see how, among other topics, groups worked to encourage schools not to adopt textbooks that (in their opinions) contain too many photographs of minorities, focus too much on endangered species or Native American cultures, define marriage as anything but a union between a man and a woman, refer to “millions of years ago” or describe biological evolution as scientific fact, present slavery as a cause of the Civil War, or suggest that separation of church and state is a key principle of the Constitution. And now they’re trying to discredit climate science.
Let’s be clear: Climate science is not an opinion. Certainly there are different interpretations of scientific data and there are differing opinions on the exact ways that climate change will manifest in the future, but there is no true debate among climate scientists regarding its cause. There is consensus among the experts that climate change is due to rising temperatures which are a result of human activities. NASA’s Global Climate Change site compiles research and official statements on the scientific consensus, and highlights that an overwhelming “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.” Over 200 scientific agencies worldwide agree that climate change has been caused by human activities.
Though there is no question among climate scientists, a 2011 survey of science educators conducted by the National Science Teachers Association showed that 82% of respondents reported experiencing skepticism from students about climate change and climate change education. Additionally, a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute in 2014 asked “From what you’ve read and heard, do you believe there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, or not?” Twenty-six percent of respondents answered “no.” The large disparity among the experts and public opinion is alarming to me as an educator. While there is very limited debate amongst the actual experts in the field, the students who are just beginning to formally learn about climate change are already skeptical due to widespread misconceptions about climate change.
As a science educator, in order to achieve my goal of helping students become scientifically literate citizens, I first need to help students to overcome their predisposed notions and examine the actual data. To do this, I need to have accurate, reliable resources, including textbooks, to support my students’ learning. There is no room in science textbooks for inaccuracy due to pressure from groups with their own agendas. For a group like Truth in Texas Textbooks to want to reduce the scientific accuracy of textbooks is not only blatantly untruthful, but it is detrimental to the education of our future generations. If we want American students to have a quality science education, then we need to make sure that they not only have qualified teachers but also high quality, scientifically accurate textbooks. In the 2011 survey by the National Science Teachers Foundation, 54% of responding teachers said they needed resources for content and teaching materials in order to do a better job of teaching about climate change. If we want students to think critically, we need to provide them with materials necessary to facilitate such lessons. Textbooks need to have strong sections on climate change, rich in data and evidence. Fortunately, the White House’s recent launch of the Climate Education and Literacy Initiative is a step in the right direction toward giving teachers access to scientifically accurate resources.
Our children are the environmental stewards of the future, and they need deserve to learn real science. If we provide students with anything less than a scientifically accurate textbook we are doing them a disservice, especially those students who wish to pursue a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field. We cannot allow misconceptions to be perpetuated by lobbyists who do not have the credentials to dictate what kind of science material is included in textbooks. Just because they don’t like what’s in the textbook doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong there. To quote astrophysicist and “Cosmos” host Neil deGrasse Tyson, “That’s the good thing about science: it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” We need to be able to teach science content without muddying the waters by creating a debate where none exists.
The Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition thinks that it is un-American to teach climate science in schools. They would prefer to provide a scientifically inaccurate and weak curriculum that will lead to citizens with weak scientific literacy who are unable to compete in the global marketplace. This censorship of textbooks is harmful to our children, and I think that is un-American. As a science educator and as a mother, I will fight for my students and my children to have quality science educations that will enrich their lives with opportunities for the future.