Parkrose High’s screening of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ stirs controversy

When a local talk show host hammered educators at Parkrose High School for‚Äîin effect ‚Äì cramming Al Gore’s ideology down the throats of students, we talked with Principal Roy Reynolds to see what was up ‚Ķ

Is this school a hotbed for political propaganda – or a place of rigorous education? It was difficult to tell if you listened to talk radio this week.

Story and photo by David F. Ashton
The fact that Lars Larson dwells on a topic for two days doesn’t make his issue a news story. But when we got calls from parents about it, we thought we needed see what was happening.

The topic: Screenings of Al Gore’s motion picture, “An Inconvenient Truth” to students taking science classes at Parkrose High School.

Some people say Al Gore produced the film “An Inconvenient Truth” to rally the world’s population to stop global warming. Others say it is merely his attempt to advance his political agenda, not provide a science lesson. (Publicity Photo)

Depending on one’s point of view, this movie is either brilliant reportage of critical scientific facts which reveal the nature of global warming and its imminent disastrous effects. Or, it is merely Al Gore’s method of putting forth his political agenda.

Science is less unanimous on the matter than the film may suggest.

For example, Dr. Robert C. Balling Jr., a professor in the climatology program at Arizona State University, specializing in climate change and the greenhouse effect, is one scientist who disputes some of the film’s facts, and conclusions.

The superintendent’s view
We asked Michael Taylor, Superintendent, Parkrose Public Schools, for his own view regarding the controversy.

“When our teachers create a lesson plan, they are tasked to focus on meeting the State standards, keeping in mind the ‘three R’s’ of Relevance, Rigor and Relationships. This motion picture is continuously in the media and newscasts, and playing at the movie house ‚Äì it is certainly relevant.”

Taylor said the school system doesn’t have an agenda nor point of view regarding the topic. “Once the students are engaged, we can ask questions of them, such as, ‘What are the basic assumptions that are made here?’ or ‘What are the actual facts that are presented here?’ Critical analysis, research and study are what make up a good part of the educational process.”

Principal Reynolds speaks
Parkrose High School principal Roy Reynolds spoke to us about his decision to allow the science department to show the film. He restated the importance of relevance, rigor, and relationships as we began our conversation.

“I was a teacher long before I was a principal,” Reynolds told us. “I found that controversial subjects that are covered widely by the media are often the most relevant to students. I see this film as a jumping-off point for research and discussion.”

Reynolds referred to the text of a letter he wrote to parents which reads:

“The purpose of the movie is to educate the public about the science behind global warming. While it is done by Al Gore, it has a largely non-partisan message (though he does make several references critiquing the Bush administration’s environmental policy).

“The movie will be shown to students enrolled in several of our science teachers’ classes.  Because of the potential for controversy, I have reminded the teachers to follow Parkrose School District Policy, ‘Studying Controversial Issues.’ This Board Policy requires that teachers provide for impartiality and insure that all sides of an issue are presented fairly.”

The showing of this motion picture was part of a lesson plan, Reynolds said, “that will expose students to varying points of view.”

From Parkrose Public Schools’ policy manual:

Since our society is based on the free exchange of ideas and diversity of political and social thought, it shall be the policy of this district to encourage unbiased, unprejudiced and scientific study of controversial issues as they arise as part of school curriculum. A controversial issue may be defined as any topic or problem which society is in the process of debating on which there is honest disagreement.

Such issues arise when different interpretations are given to a particular set of circumstances.

The basic goal in studying controversial questions should be to enable the student to develop techniques for considering such questions; techniques which he/she will use habitually in later life. Learning situations shall provide opportunities for the development of clear thinking, balanced judgment, intelligent choices, informed opinion, an ability to differentiate fact from opinion and an understanding of propaganda devices. Questions treated should come within the range of the knowledge, maturity and competence of the students. Issues selected for study should be current, significant and of interest to the students.

The teacher is the most important member of the staff in the actual handling of controversial issues. The role of the teacher should be to reveal to students the processes used by the social scientist to identify, study and solve problems. The teacher shall avoid indoctrination in his/her own personal viewpoint and shall not attempt to control or limit the judgment of students. The selection of materials, guest speakers and classroom activities in general shall be done with studied impartiality for the purpose of fairly presenting all sides of an issue.

The administration of this policy in the district is the immediate responsibility of the building principal under the guidance of procedures established by the superintendent.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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