A significant vote on science textbooks is expected to take place in Texas, where the treatment of climate change and fossil fuels in educational materials has become a contentious issue. Some Republican education officials in the state have criticized the textbooks for their perceived negativity toward fossil fuels, despite Texas being the largest oil and gas producer in the United States.
The Texas State Board of Education is responsible for approving textbooks, and the upcoming vote highlights divisions within the board on how these topics should be addressed. This board has previously been involved in heated curriculum battles related to subjects like evolution and U.S. history, impacting over 5 million students in the state.
In 2021, the board’s conservative majority adopted science standards that do not include creationism as an alternative to evolution. These standards also acknowledge human factors as contributors to climate change, reflecting the consensus among scientists.
However, during discussions this week, some Republican board members criticized the available textbook options for being too negative toward fossil fuels and for not including alternatives to evolution. Wayne Christian, a Republican regulator of the oil and gas industry in Texas, called on the board to choose books that emphasize the importance of fossil fuels for energy.
It’s important to note that Texas has more than 1,000 school districts, and they are not obligated to use textbooks approved by the state board. Nevertheless, the endorsements from the board carry weight and influence textbook choices.
Glenn Branch, the deputy director of the National Center on Science Education, commented on the situation, saying, “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.”
Friday’s vote will determine whether the proposed textbooks meet the science standards set in 2021. Branch emphasized that multiple books comply with those regulations and align with the consensus of the scientific community, which overwhelmingly supports the idea that fossil fuel emissions are causing global climate change.
The debate has also included discussions about the portrayal of the oil and gas industry in the textbooks. Some board members argued that certain images negatively depicted the industry, while others defended the portrayal.
The National Science Teaching Association, representing 35,000 science educators across the U.S., issued a letter urging the Texas board not to allow objections to evolution and climate change to hinder the adoption of science textbooks in the state.
The outcome of the vote will determine how many textbooks may be rejected, and the impact will vary depending on the grade level and publisher. Emily Witt, a spokeswoman for the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning watchdog group, stated that only two textbooks identified by their organization would not meet the science standards set in 2021.