South Dakota School of Mines & Technology professors say they are already doing exactly what a House resolution seeks when urging the state's public schools to present students with all sides of the climate change debate.
An amended version of House Concurrent Resolution 1009 narrowly passed the Senate Wednesday with a 18-17 vote. It passed the House last week with a 36-30 vote.
The resolution, which does not have the force of law, asks schools that present the threats of global warming to balance the information with the skeptical view of climate change as well.
"If you're going to teach science and there are two sides, you need to teach both, or it's about politics," said Republican state Rep. Don Kopp.
At the School of Mines, students are taught to first think critically, said geology professor Colin Paterson.
The resolution allows the Legislature to micromanage the content of courses where professionals are designing and presenting the material, he said.
He teaches an introductory science class required for freshmen, and in it, Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" is shown to students, while a panel of faculty sits in the front of the classroom. The video is paused for debate, discussion and fact checking, he said.
"Our intent is to have them getting used to thinking critically," he said. "Climate change is the vehicle we use."
Paterson said the class is team-taught by five professors. Speakers with opposing viewpoints visit the class, and the students analyze data to come up with answers.
Even with that, some students get the impression that the school might have an agenda, he said, which is not the intent of the class.
At one point, Kopp offered to come and speak to the class, Paterson added. They decided against it, because differing views were already offered.
P.V. Sundareshwar, an assistant professor in the Institute of Atmospheric Science at Mines, said Gore's video is just one piece of information presented to students.
"It's not the basis for classroom education," he said. "It's science conducted by very well-meaning and ethical scientists who do this day in and day out. There's no agenda that it's taught one way or another."
Kopp said his main concern is that schools show the video without an opposing view to balance the viewpoints about climate change.
"It's glossed over as if it's a fact," he said.
Kopp, Paterson and Sundareshwar all agree that climate change is occurring and did so before humans were on the planet.
"But kids are coming out believing by virtue of their life on Earth, they are destroying the planet," Kopp said.
Human activity is just one of many factors affecting climate change, Sundareshwar said.
"There's no other side to climate change," he said. " ... There are X factors that contribute. Some are natural and some are from human activity and that's what we talk about in class."
People should be more concerned about the rate of change of the drivers behind it, he added.
Rapid City Area Schools board member Suzan Nolan, who also serves on the board's instructional council, said the issue should be left to local educators.
"I would hope teachers come down specifically on the side of respected scientific facts," she said.
Kopp said the resolution would leave the final decision up to local educators because it's simply a suggestion to schools.
"I agree with her 100 percent, otherwise I would have crafted a bill," he said. "We've got enough government regulation the way it is."
Kopp revised the original resolution that passed in the House last week, stripping it of "fluff," he said, which meant including less of the technical aspects over the debate on climate change.
The amended version returns to the House for approval and Kopp doesn't expect smooth sailing.
"It's going to be a battle," he said. "It's been ugly. A lot of people are excited."
Contact Kayla Gahagan at 394-8410 or firstname.lastname@example.org