There are so many ways to teach kids these days when it comes to nearly any subject. Increasingly, I find myself saying to my kids, especially when they ask me something that I know I can’t answer all that well (if at all, once in a while), “Why don’t you Google it?” or, “That sounds like something you should look up on the computer.”
We’re still a card-carrying library kind of family (just last week I got a new card and this week, I am waiting for a 1954 book by Eleanor Roosevelt, Ladies of Courage, that will be delivered to my suburban Cleveland branch library from a Toledo library, all courtesy of the integrated Ohio Internet catalogue system). But the Internet can’t be beat for speed and variety, especially when it comes to different teaching tools – text, visuals, audio, interactive sites all contribute to the answers.
So, given all these resources at our fingertips, you really have to ask why Scholastic, as in the Scholastic book fairs parents and kids all remember (as well as textbook and picture book and chapter book fame) went this route to educate our kids about the coal industry. From yesterday’s New York Times article, “Coal Curriculum Called Unfit for 4th Graders”:
“ ‘The United States of Energy’ is designed to paste a smiley face on the dirtiest form of energy in the world,” said Bill Bigelow, an editor of Rethinking Schools magazine. “These materials teach children only the story the coal industry has paid Scholastic to tell.”
The Scholastic materials say that coal is produced in half of the 50 states, that America has 27 percent of the world’s coal resources, and that it is the source of half the electricity produced in the nation, with about 600 coal-powered plants operating around the clock to provide electricity.
What they do not mention are the negative effects of mining and burning coal: the removal of Appalachian mountaintops; the release of sulfur dioxide, mercury and arsenic; the toxic wastes; the mining accidents; the lung disease.
Finding clues as to why Scholastic presented so unbalanced a product didn’t take long, as the article notes upfront: the American Coal Foundation paid for them. Who is this group?
Who Is Involved with the ACF?
Support for the ACF is provided by coal producers and manufacturers of mining equipment and supplies. In addition, electric utilities, railroads and organized labor have supported the work of the Foundation over the years. The ACF Board of Directors, comprised of industry executives, manages the operation of the Foundation.
See the fog of confusion lifting?
So did Scholastic really think that no one would notice how one-sided the coverage in “The United States of Energy” was, given how we consume weekly if not daily news, locally and nationally, on multiple environmental issues related to coal?
I don’t know but maybe now, after today’s editorial, “Scholastic’s Big Coal Mistake” in the New York Times absolutely takes the company to task, among many others, and outs how even this usually very trusted name in education can wittingly or unwittingly let their donors influence the content of their materials, Scholastic will learn a lesson from how well parents know the value of teaching media literacy by example – this time using Scholastic as the case study.
For more on how to better teach our kids (and us) about science and the environment, check out these resources:
They Might Be Giants has a great cover of the original song called, “The Sun Song.” I’ve blogged before about the series of educational LP records in the 1960s that
you could get from gas stations which my grandfather parents brought home to us and that song was one of the most popular and obviously one of the more enduring – my brothers and I can still dredge up the lyrics to most of the songs on those albums. (You can see the sun song lyrics here.)
That’s the audio route. Here’s the audio-visual route that says all you need to know about fracking – the method by which natural gas is released to and through wells. It’s the definitive answer to WTF, as the blog post title promised.
Finally, on today’s Science Friday, you can hear about how fracking is infiltrating and negatively affecting our water supply. What’s so odd about Scholastic’s mistake is their assumption that how they’ve crafted their material on coal wouldn’t be uncovered, didn’t matter and/or wouldn’t raise a problem for them from here on out by those of us who otherwise might have never doubted them.
Feels like that’s happening all over the place, doesn’t it?
The Moms Clean Air Force seeks to keep an eye on all that at its blog this week, and Dominique’s post, Foul Play from the Dirtiest Company zeroes in American Electric Power’s attempt to find a legislative sponsor to proffer its most recent diatribe on dismantling clean air regulations. As she writes,
American Electric Power (AEP) is America’s biggest creator of many dangerous kinds of air pollution, including mercury. Their lobbyists have just written a sweeping, 56-page bill to weaken and delay federal clean air standards. They want to dismantle the Clean Air Act, and gut the EPA by cutting off funding.
Now they’re shopping their draft around to see who is willing to sponsor it.
And, by the way, AEP made $1.2 billion in profits last year.
Read her entire post, and browse and read the others there as well. Then, think about writing one too. Again, there’s pretty much nothing we do that doesn’t involve air.