Before science teachers can tackle topics such as global warming, they will have to demonstrate to the school board that the course is politically balanced.
A new environmental science course prompted the on Tuesday to rewrite its policy for teaching controversial subject matter. Concerned that "liberal" faculty members could skew lessons on global warming, the board of education voted 4-0 to make teachers give an annual presentation on how they're teaching the class.
“I believe my role in the board is to represent the conservative voice of the community and I’m not a big fan of global warming,” board member Jeffrey Barke, who led the effort but didn't attend Tuesday's meeting, said in a telephone interview. “The teachers wanted [the class], and we want a review of how they are teaching it.”
The high school will begin offering an advanced-placement environmental science course next fall. Based on demand elsewhere in California, district officials expect it to be popular—more than 15,000 public school students enrolled in the class in 2008-09.
Although there is a consensus among scientists, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, that global climate change exists, the board of education said the topic is controversial enough to require a change in the district's policy.
The new class will be the first for which district teachers must prove political balance to the school board.
“Most teachers are left to center, and if we leave it to teachers to impose their liberal views, then it would make for an unbalanced lesson,” Barke said. “Some people believe that global warming is a crock of crap, and others are zealots.”
The course also covers topics such as population dynamics, evolution and biodiversity, pollution, ozone depletion and human health and toxicity.
“We define a topic to be controversial if it has more than one widely held view,” said Assistant Superintendent when Superintendent Gregory Franklin steps down at the end of the school year. “There are many issues regarding the environment that have become politicized these days and we want kids to be exposed to all sides.”
School officials said the class is a good alternative for students looking to add an alternative AP course to their schedules.
“Our goal is to have every high school student complete at least one AP course, and this is a good one to take because it is not heavily math-based,” said Kropp. “We are excited to offer it.”
The textbook that will be used, “Living in the Environment,” asks students to analyze why some issues are deemed controversial (such as wilderness protection) and explores how population growth and climate change can cause species extinctions.
“If the textbook talks about the evil adventures of humanity, we want teachers to describe an opposing view,” Barke said. “Teachers and textbooks are biased.”
Los Alamitos Unified isn't the first district to raise concerns regarding how environmental science courses are taught. The Texas board of education, for example, mandated that teachers present “all sides” of issues that include global warming. South Dakota public schools are also required to teach climate skepticism, according to a report from the New York Times.
Still, this might be the first time a California public school takes such a stand.
“I don’t have data to share on this, but every subject area has its own set of controversies,” said Thomas Adams, director of standards, curriculum frameworks and instructional resources for the California Department of Education.
Kropp said, “An unbalanced lesson would portray only one side. All we want is to have teachers teach the various scientific theories out there.”
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