The Best Answers to “WTF!?” When It Comes to Fracking & Clean Air

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.

4 thoughts on “The Best Answers to “WTF!?” When It Comes to Fracking & Clean Air

  1. What Scholastic did feels very old-school to me and makes me wonder if this organization isn’t obsolete. When I was a child, we often went to the Museum of Science of Industry near my home in Chicago. The exhibits, which were sponsored by Big Corporatocacy (whatever the equivalent on Monsanto/ExxonMobile etc was back in the day), were relentlessly upbeat. Everything is progress! Science is always good! There are no bad side effects! Everything was so cheery. As I got older, it seems a tad contrived.

    Now, however, as you said, we get bombarded with information from everywhere, and it’s very very easy to check out sources and find out who’s funding what, what their special interests are, and what they might be trying to conceal. It’s a whole new world for those trying to present one side of an issue and cal it “education.” Personally, I think Google is terrific. The first thing kids should learn, however, when they land on a web page is to ask themselves “Who’s behind this? Where did this information come from?” I think it can be used to help build critical thinking. I love it! Scholastic may rapidly find themselves irrelevant if they don’t change how they package information.

  2. Dear Scholastic – your statement is fine and I’m very glad to know you monitor social media and online content creators such as blogs who are critiquing your work – esp. because I am also a parent of three school-aged kids AND I always volunteer at our district’s Scholastic book fairs (as well as spend money at them).

    Here’s the thing I’d alter or re-consider in your statement: the criticism is, to some extent, about the content of the poster because the criticism is based on a sense that the content fails to present all perspectives of what it means to our society and environment to use coal, the good, the bad and the ugly.

    I am in Ohio – I promise you, we are EXTREMELY aware of the jobs the industry provides and what it means to feel that the health and environmental damage from the use of coal outweighs the benefits. This is why decreasing our usage, overall, changing our habits, so that we can decrease our need for the energy is so critical.

    I hope you will publish how you conduct your review of your policies and also publicize what you conclude and how you will be changing those policies involved. I suspect I speak for a lot of parents and educators and interested adults: none of us WANTS to diss Scholastic or any other business, per se. But it is only more and more important that everyone is transparent about their processes, especially when we’re talking children and educating.

    In this day and age, if you don’t disclose, we will reveal. It’s that simple.

    Thanks again.

    Scholastic’s children’s books, magazines, reading programs and website content are used in most American classrooms – a responsibility and trust that we built through painstaking work through 90 years of service to teachers and schools. A tiny percentage of this material is produced with sponsors, including government agencies, non-profit associations and some corporations. This week, Scholastic came under criticism for an 11” x 16” poster map which displays different sources of energy –coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, wind and natural gas – not so much for the content of the poster but primarily its sponsorship by the American Coal Foundation. We acknowledge that the mere fact of sponsorship may call into question the authenticity of the information, and therefore conclude that we were not vigilant enough as to the effect of sponsorship in this instance. We have no plans to further distribute this particular program. Because we have always been guided by our belief that we can do better, we are undertaking a thorough review of our policy and editorial procedures on sponsored content, and we will publish only those materials which are worthy of our reputation as “the most trusted name in learning.”

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