February 23, 2024

Texas’s Republican-controlled education board voted on Friday not to include several climate textbooks in the state science curriculum.

The 15-member board rejected seven out of 12 for eighth-graders. The approved textbooks are published by Savvas Learning Company, McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Accelerate Learning and Summit K-12.

The rejected textbooks included climate-crisis policy solutions, and conservative board members criticized them for being too negative about fossil fuels – a major industry in the state. Texas leads the nation in the production of crude oil and natural gas.

Although Texas adopted standards in 2021 that requires eighth-graders be taught the basics about climate change, some argue that measure does not go far enough.

Aaron Kinsey, a Republican board member and executive of an oilfield services company in west Texas, criticized photos in some textbooks as unduly besmirching the oil and gas industry during a discussion of the materials this week.

“The selection of certain images can make things appear worse than they are, and I believe there was bias,” Kinsey said, according to Hearst Newspapers.

“You want to see children smiling in oilfields?” said Democratic board member Aicha Davis. “I don’t know what you want.”

Texas’s 1,000-plus school districts are not required to use board-approved textbooks. But the board’s decision wields influence.

Some in powerful positions have tried to sway the board to reject the textbooks. On 1 November, the Texas railroad commissioner, Wayne Christian – who oversees the state’s oil and gas industry – sent a letter to the education board’s chairman, Kevin Ellis, relaying “concerns for potential textbooks that could promote a radical environmentalist agenda”.

Also contested was the inclusion of lessons on evolution – the theory addressing the origins of human existence which the scientific community supports and religious groups reject.

The decision comes despite pleas from the National Science Teaching Association to not “allow misguided objections to evolution and climate change” to affect the adoption of new textbooks.

The deputy director of the National Center on Science Education, Glenn Branch, said: “Members of the board are clearly motivated to take some of these textbooks off of the approved list because of their personal and ideological beliefs regarding evolution and climate change.”

Texas is one of six states that has not adopted the Next Generation Science Standards in its K-12 science curriculum. The standards underscore that climate change is a real threat caused by humans and can be mitigated by a reduction in greenhouse gases.

Texas has seen some of the most extreme effects of the worsening climate crisis in recent years. According to the Texas state climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon, the summer of 2023 was the second hottest on record, after 2011.

In 2021, Texas experienced an unprecedented winter storm that blanketed much of the state in snow, left millions without power after the electrical grid failed, and resulted in deaths. Houston also bore the wrath of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, a devastating category 4 hurricane that destroyed homes and buildings while leading to the deaths of more than 100 people in Texas.

The state ranks 41st out of 50 in the US for education.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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