This piece was cross posted at Non-Toxic Kids.
This came right out of a book like Thank You for Smoking, which I read years ago. Basically, the book was about several characters making lots of money trying to convince people that their products were a-okay, even healthy. Who did they represent? Alcohol manufacturers and the Tobacco Industry to name a few. It was quite satirical read– with scenes similar to what we currently see on the cable “news” shows. Lots of people sharing fact-like arguments. Sound bites of misinformation shared by folks with slick hairdos, gleaming smiles and enormous egos.
Sadly, we have grown to expect this from the partisan and sometimes factual cable “news” shows.
But in curricular materials? For America’s children?
For years as a teacher I have read about how powerful textbook companies (usually located in Texas) have edited our history, our struggles, and our American realities in their materials. But this took the cake.
The American Coal Foundation actually hired Scholastic to write a curriculum called The United States of Energy. Kids learning about energy? Sounds great! We do need to raise a generation of children who understand the energy challenges that our nation faces.
The problem is that while discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each energy type, the materials failed to list a single disadvantage of coal.
Nothing about how coal mining causes toxic emissions of mercury, cadmium, and arsenic, enough to send thousands of our children to emergency rooms each year. Or how coal mining causes increases in greenhouse gases, increasing rates of global warming. Or how coal mining strips mountaintops and pollutes waterways in the surrounding communites.
Corporate interests run very deep, and they have a vested interest in promoting the positive aspects of coal only. I have written about Scholastic here before. They provide wonderfully affordable books to our nation’s children, but also video games, cheaply made trinkets (usually made with toxic mateirals), and television related gear. I stopped handing out Scholastic book orders to my students when I realized I was a glorified salesperson for this mega-corporation, and some of the products they were selling were unhealthy for impressionable kids. Instead, I encourage my students to visit their local independent book stores. The the practice of handing out Scholastic book club materials to students continues in most public schools across the U.S.
The American Coal Foundation clearly thought it had found a market to exploit: America’s children. From the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood:
“According to the Executive Director of the American Coal Foundation, hiring Scholastic allowed ACF to dramatically increase its presence in schools—from about 7,000 to 70,000 classrooms. “Four out of five parents know and trust the Scholastic brand,” she explained.”
Trust indeed. Then the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood teamed with Rethinking Schools to demand that Scholastic stop promoting coal in elementary schools. The campaign gained much attention:
“Our campaign received significant media attention: a great article and a highly-favorable editorial in the New York Times, as well as coverage in CNN Money, PRI’s Living on Earth, and Mother Jones. It also attracted new allies. In addition to Rethinking Schools, we were joined in the campaign by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the Center for Biological Diversity.”
And it worked! When I was writing the original post for this article, I tried to access the curriculum online. It wasn’t available, because Scholastic decided Friday to stop distributing it. Look at the power of online organizing!
I commend Scholastic for pulling this curriculum. I’m also thrilled they will be evaluating their editorial procedures and objectives in promoting sponsored materials. To send an email of thanks to Scholastic for making this change, please write the CEO, Richard Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This success shows the power of our activism! By working together, across interest groups, different organizations, locations, and backgrounds, we can improve the world for our children, one action at a time.
That’s why it is so important to support the EPA’s new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that will save thousands children’s lives once it is enacted. Please tell the EPA to hold strong and not change or delay these important changes to protect our children from toxic mercury, cadmium, heavy metal, and arsenic exposures. We have the power to make the world safer and healthier for our kids. Let’s use it!