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Education Reporter

Controversy Follows Offer of Free Global Warming Documentary

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The producers of Al Gore's global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, decided in mid-2006 to offer 50,000 free copies of the film to American schools. The distribution of the film has created more controversy than the producers expected.

To start with, the National Science Teachers Association declined to accept the free copies, saying they saw "little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members" in the offer. Instead of giving the DVDs to the NSTA for distribution to schools, the producers then made them available online to individual teachers. Science and civics teachers could request copies of the film and download a free curriculum guide.

An incident this month in the town of Federal Way, Washington, has attracted national attention. After several parents complained about An Inconvenient Truth, the Federal Way School Board called for a "moratorium" on the film until school policy surrounding the issue could be clarified.

After discussion, the board concluded that teachers who show the film must also present a "credible, legitimate, opposing view." David Larson, vice president of the board, explained that Federal Way schools already have a set policy on the teaching of controversial issues. The policy states, "It is the teacher's responsibility to present controversial issues that are free from prejudice and encourage students to formulate, hold and express their own opinions without personal prejudice or discrimination." As Larson explained, "the principal reason for [this policy] is to make sure that the public schools are not used for indoctrination."

In the first five days after the board's decision, school board president Ed Barney received about 600 emails, many of them sharply critical. The parent who first complained about the film, Frosty Hardison, also received his share of abuse - including a flood of angry phone calls to his home.

Mr. Larson also pointed out that while Federal Way wants to show the documentary in the context of both sides of the debate, many school districts are declining to show it at all.

Nevertheless, An Inconvenient Truth is getting plenty of airtime. Teachers in many other schools have accepted and screened the free DVD. Schools in other countries have also made ample use of the film, although they don't receive free copies. The governments of Norway, Sweden, and most recently, Scotland require all public high school students to watch the film.

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