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'Doesn't end well': West York school board scraps textbook on climate change

The West York Area school board voted down a textbook May 19 after members said its teaching of climate change constituted left-wing "indoctrination."

The text, "Rubenstein: The Cultural Landscape: An Introduction to Human Geography, 13th edition," is published by Pearson, and it represented an anti-capitalist extension of the environmental movement, said board member Lynn Kohler.

"I believe this falls into the indoctrination category of pushing a particular political belief," Kohler said at the board's May 19 action meeting.

The book was slated to be used in the district's advanced placement human geography course. 

Climate change and globalization are highly political and not universally accepted, Kohler said.

But there's widespread agreement among climate scientists that climate change is fact and is either exacerbated or directly caused by human industrial behavior.

NASA regularly studies the planet's increasingly warming oceans. And, in 2019, a report published by the U.S. Department of Defense said climate change is among the most pressing threats to U.S. and global stability. 

More:York teachers tackle misinformation, skepticism about climate change

Lynn Kohler, right, candidate for West York School Board, greets voters during Election Day at Shiloh Fire Co. in West Manchester Township, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The textbook's adoption was shot down in a 5-4 vote, with board members Kohler, Todd Gettys, Brandy Shope, Courtney Dennis and George Margetas voting against it.

Jeanne Herman, Suzanne Smith, Douglas Hoover and Donald Carl voted to approve it.

Gettys said approving it would be an endorsement of its ideas, and both he and Kohler agreed it could be offered as an independent study.

In that case, students would have to buy their own books, so they would not be funded by taxpayer money. 

Teachings in the text that say resources are not distributed uniformly across the earth make "it sound like countries like America are bad," Kohler said.

However, he said America was founded on freedom and liberty, and he would be OK with endorsing a course reinforcing those ideas.

Carl said the book goes along with the curriculum set out for advanced placement geography, and there’s not much room for divergence.

More:West York school board members question if policy revisions limit free speech

West York Area officials and board members discuss proposals to update the middle and high school course curriculum at a Tuesday, Feb. 11 board meeting. The high school course selection comes with a change from a 4-block schedule to a 5-block schedule for the 2020-21 school year. Pictured, L to R: Business Manager Sheri Schlemmer, board members Douglas Hoover, Courtney Dennis and Todd Gettys.

“While it’s OK for all of us to have different opinions, there really is only one set of facts,” Carl said.

Carl teaches a similar course at Central York, and his wife is slated to teach West York's version. Hoover, who teaches history at Dover Area, said the book is also in line with most history texts, and no other text the board could choose would support Kohler's intended changes.

Hoover said he's seen what happened at Dover when its board got "heavily involved" in curriculum and texts. This eventually led to a 2005 trial after a group of parents sued the district for including intelligent design in its science curriculum, which proponents contend is an alternative to Darwinian evolution.

More: What if Dover had prevailed on intelligent design?

"It really doesn’t end well," Hoover said, adding he doesn't want to be a part of policing textbooks.

Herman urged trusting the experts who presented the text, adding that the board should take care not to add its own personal bias and instead let students be critical thinkers.

Prior to voting down the textbook, Margetas, Shope, Kohler and Gettys voted to table the approval so board members could read the text for reviews. Smith said there had been plenty of time for that earlier.

They were outvoted, which left approval of the book on the chopping block.

Shope was concerned there had been no time to question the curriculum, and part of the confusion stemmed from the fact that the board approved high school course selection and curriculum at the same time for next year's switch to a five-block schedule.

Following the vote to drop the book, Kohler apologized and said he thought they were approving curriculum — though Superintendent Todd Davies had said curriculum was approved in February.

Without a text, however, it’s unlikely the course will run, and students who already signed up for it will be disappointed, Davies said. 

Kohler said the board didn’t even have the opportunity to review textbooks his first four years on the board, so now is the time.

Davies said he’d get together with high school Principal Carrie Jones and the curriculum team to see what to do about the course.

Margetas said he’s all for bringing it back for review, and in that case the board should take the opportunity to review common core instruction as well.