California High School Required to Teach Skeptical Views on Global Warming

Earlier this month, the Los Alamitos Unified School District announced a decision that will require its schools to include both liberal and conservative views on global warming in their curriculum. The decision is focused on Los Alamitos High School, which wants to implement a new Advanced Placement environmental science class in fall 2011.

Annually, teachers will be required to present a teaching plan to the school board before teaching the AP class, explaining how they intend to teach the class to ensure that it is politically balanced. School board members, who unanimously approved the measure with a 4-0 vote, believe that plans to teach controversial issues should be reviewed by the board. Conservative board member Jeffrey Barke explained that the goal is to provide balance in the classroom: “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,” he said. Furthering these comments, Los Alamitos Unified Assistant Superintendent Sherry Kropp said, “There are many issues regarding the environment that have become politicized these days and we want kids to be exposed to all sides.” Controversial issues are defined as topics that have more than one widely held view.

Administrators believe that AP Environmental Science is a good alternative AP course for students to take, and Kropp hopes that offering the class will help the district achieve its goal of having “every high school student complete at least one AP course,” explaining that “this is a good [AP course] to take because it is not heavily math-based.” The AP course is already a popular class in high schools across the state, with a statewide enrollment of more than 15,000 students in the 2008-2009 school year. Among the topics covered in the course are evolution, biodiversity, pollution, population dynamics, ozone depletion, health and toxicity.

The textbook used for the class, called “Living in the Environment”, approaches climate change in a manner that asks students to analyze how global warming contributes to species extinctions, as well as why these divisive issues are controversial. Textbooks and teachers, Barke believes, are biased, and to eliminate this bias, classrooms must incorporate all facets of a widely debated issue. Administrators are concerned that teachers, the majority of whom are moderate or liberal, will color the global warming debate with their own bias, imposing their personal views on the class’s curriculum.

Despite a growing social trend toward environmentalism and eco-friendly attitudes, Americans’ skepticism regarding global warming has increased. An annual poll by Gallup last year showed that nearly half of Americans believe that global warming isn’t a threat. Forty-eight percent of Americans believe that the global warming debacle is exaggerated, the poll says. That number has been on the rise in the past 15 years – in 1997, 31 percent of Americans believed that climate change was exaggerated, compared to 41 percent in 2009. In comparison, the 2010 poll concluded that 53 percent of responders think that global warming is real and that its effects are or will be serious. The US is not the only country where climate skepticism is on the rise – the percentage of British adults who believe that global warming is a definite threat has declined from 44 to 31 percent in recent years.

Los Alamitos Unified School District encompasses a small community on the border of Los Angeles and Orange counties in Southern California. Texas and South Dakota schools are also required to incorporate both sides of the climate change debate in their classrooms, though this is likely the first time a California public school has seen a mandate to address and teach climate skepticism in the classroom.

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