This is wildly outrageous: Scholastic, the company that sells books to kids through their preschools and grade school classrooms, is distributing reading material to 4th-grade classrooms that highlights the advantages of coal.
Of course there are some advantages to using coal for energy — it’s abundant, we’ve used it forever. So what’s the problem?
The problem is what’s missing from the teaching materials.
This information about coal is a part of a fully developed curriculum called The United States of Energy, which discusses the advantages and disadvantages other forms of energy, like solar and fossil fuels. But according the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, The United States of Energy doesn’t list any disadvantages of coal, a notoriously dirty energy both in extracting it from the earth and burning it for fuel.
The fact that disadvantages of coal weren’t listed isn’t a mere oversight, either. It’s an editorial decision. You see, The United States of Energy was commissioned by the coal industry, through the American Coal Foundation. They paid Scholastic to produce and distribute these materials.
I’m a bit Obama on my opinion of coal. I wish we didn’t need it, but we do. Until we come up with some alternatives, we need to figure out a better way to get it and use it. Morally and intellectually, it’s wrong to discuss it with kids (or grown-ups) without acknowledging its faults — particularly if you’re giving it to solar, wind and petroleum with both barrels.
Moreover, I don’t care if you’ve got a Dick Cheney-level of love for the coal industry, passing off PR materials as K-12 educational resources is outrageous. But the American Coal Foundation is delighted at their investment in outreach:
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.
This isn’t the first time Scholastic has allowed business interests to influence what’s available through book orders or what shows up as a classroom lesson. In fact, Scholastic has an entire division dedicated to selling access to our kids for profit. According to the CCFC:
For years, Scholastic has exploited its reputation as an educational publisher to serve as a Trojan horse for all sorts of inappropriate marketing in schools—from the highly commercialized content of its Book Clubs, to marketing over-the-counter drug Claritin in elementary school classes, to urging teachers to throw sugar-laden beverage SunnyD parties in their classrooms. Scholastic’s InSchool Marketing division offers its services as curriculum producer for hire. The program is designed “to promote client objectives” and “make a difference by influencing attitudes and behaviors.”
CCFC has a petition you can sign. But I think it’s also worth taking a close look at the next round of book orders and also speaking to schools about this conflicting interest. For many classrooms, kids’ orders go to support new books for their own classrooms. I’m all for teaching my kids about energy, but I don’t want the American Coal Foundation deciding what my kids need to know.
I loved book orders as a kid and my kids like them now. I’ve always been generous with our orders. But I’m starting to rethink that. The Scholastic books are cheap, but I’d rather spend more than support this kind of crass exploitation of teachers and students. I’d rather buy new books outright for the school then think that a bunch of kids in coal country are drinking dirty water at home but reading that there’s no reason to complain about coal.
Justin Bieber inhalers can’t solve everything!
What about you? Do you just accept that book orders are filled with commercialized stuff? Did you have any idea they developed classroom material alongside groups with a financial stake in what’s printed on the page?
Positive energy starts at home: Babble’s Better Living Guide