Portland Public Schools Commits To Climate Justice

IMG_5689 (Small)Portland’s climate justice activists won a groundbreaking victory on May 17, when the Portland Public Schools Board unanimously passed a resolution promising major changes in the way climate justice is taught and modeled in Portland Public Schools.

To be dropped:

  1. any texts that doubt the severity of the climate crisis or question its human causes.

To be added:

  1. grassroots, locally created teaching materials, curriculum, professional development and outdoor studies, all exploring the roots and solutions to the climate crisis.
  2. information about and student training opportunities in green jobs and technologies
  3. a focus on strengthening student climate activism, with the featured presence of PPS students who came to Portland as climate refugees from ‘frontline’ communities.

Educating for Climate Justice, the group that wrote and sent the resolution to the School Board, came out of a 350PDX-sponsored workshop last November between teachers and climate activists. Its members, including parents, students, teachers and community activists, wanted to look at and do something about the poor quality of climate literacy in Portland’s schools. Some especially disturbing examples:

-a high school science text that repeatedly uses climate-skeptic words like “may” when describing the human contribution to climate change: “Human activities may also change the climate over time.”   “Carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles, power plants and other sources may contribute to global warming.”

-a widely-used high school Modern World History text with only three paragraphs on climate change, the second one beginning with, “Not all scientists agree with the theory of the greenhouse effect.”

As the group grew, robust discussions produced a multi-faceted proposal sent to the School Board in April with the endorsement of more than 30 community groups, including 350PDX,  Rising Tide,  Columbia Riverkeepers,  the Sierra Club, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and many others.  Though the resolution passed by the School Board did not include everything that was asked for, the core proposal stayed in.

IMG_5696 (Small)As they celebrate, campaigners hope that school districts around the country will see Portland as a model. A February survey, which collected responses from 1,500 science teachers in the U.S., found that 30 percent of teachers said they taught students that climate change is “likely due to natural causes.” Another 31 percent said they teach climate change as unsettled science. Already in 2010, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences declared anthropogenic (human caused) climate change to be a settled fact. Despite that, 61% of the surveyed teachers are teaching otherwise. This is one reason why this resolution may have national significance.

As teacher activist Bill Bigelow commented, “This may be the first time that a school district has gone on record committing itself to scrap text materials that take a skeptical stance toward the climate crisis, and to agree that our schools’ aim should be climate justice.  I hope that Portland’s courageous stance will inspire other school districts around the country.”

Resolution available as a PDF