Proposed Texas Social Studies Textbooks Get Climate Change Wrong Too

Researchers say climate change has a valuable place in social studies classes. But that doesn't mean students should debate the cause or even existence of global warming.
Researchers say climate change has a valuable place in social studies classes. But that doesn't mean students should debate the cause or even existence of global warming.

As if Texas social studies textbooks haven't been getting enough flack for pointed political and religious biases, a report released Monday by the National Center for Science Education highlights inaccuracies about climate change in proposed state textbooks.

See also: SMU Academics Speak Out Against Political and Religious Bias in Texas Social Studies Textbooks

This fall marks the first time in 12 years that new social studies books are being adopted, and between a politically motivated review committee and publishers trying to balance Texas curriculum requirements with substantial material, the debate is heating up.

Josh Rosenau, a policy analyst with the NCSE, says many of the inaccuracies surrounding climate change in the textbooks can be blamed on sloppiness rather than political motivation. "A lot of the content is not written by the person whose name is on the cover. That person probably wrote the chapter content, the publisher rearranged it, and wrote suggestions for exercises. So there are likely things the person on the front cover never even saw," he says. "These are textbooks that are not written by people who know the material."

See also: The People Choosing Texas' Social Studies Texts Don't Know Enough about Social Studies

Nevertheless, much of the material regarding climate change comes off as politically biased. In one case, a sixth-grade geography textbook equates global warming information from the Heartland Institute -- a conservative think tank -- with that of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is composed of the top scientific minds in the field of climate research.

Another instance prompts students to debate possible causes of climate change, suggesting that human action might not be a major contributor to global warming. And one elementary school textbook claims that some climatologists think any warming is simply a part of the natural process. "Some scientists say it is natural for the Earth's temperature to be higher for a few years," the textbook reads. "They predict we'll have some cooler years and things will even out." The NCSE counters that no known publishing climatologists have said any such thing.

Although the National Center for Science Education is a California-based think tank, the group keeps a close eye on Texas textbooks because, as Rosenau says, "what happens in Texas doesn't always stay in Texas." Often, publishers use Texas textbook adoption to prepare books for markets in other states.

Robert Luhn, another spokesman for the agency, says that Texas textbooks and revisions typically have a strong effect on every other classroom in the country. "In part it's because Texas is one of the biggest textbook markets on the planet," he says. "As Texas goes, so goes the nation. It has a huge sway with publishers. If Texas says they want something, the textbook changes ripple throughout the United States."

State standards do not require that social studies courses teach climate change, but as it's an issue with huge cultural, social and geographical implications, most textbooks address global warming at some point. "There are so many questions to be asked about how climate change will affect cultures, how will it alter our geography, how cities will respond to it. These are interesting questions that in a social studies class would be good to discuss," Rosenau says.

But the muddy language leaves room for debate on the cause or existence of climate change, he says, and these are issues that is no longer considered debatable in the scientific community. "A social studies class is not the place to have a scientific debate. There was a debate, and it was resolved years ago," he says. "But social studies teachers are not the ones to answer what the science entails."


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