Coal curriculum called unfit for 4th graders

Posted: 5/11/2011

From The New York Times:

Three advocacy groups have started a letter-writing campaign asking Scholastic Inc. to stop distributing the fourth-grade curriculum materials that the American Coal Foundation paid the company to develop.

The three groups - Rethinking Schools, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Friends of the Earth - say that Scholastic's "United States of Energy" package gives children a one-sided view of coal, failing to mention its negative effects on the environment and human health.

Kyle Good, Scholastic's vice president for corporate communications, was traveling for much of Wednesday and said she could not comment until she had all the "United States of Energy" materials in hand.

Others at the company said Ms. Good was the only one who could discuss the matter. The company would not comment on how much it was paid for its partnership with the coal foundation.

Scholastic's InSchool Marketing division, which produced the coal curriculum in partnership with the coal foundation, often works with groups like the American Society of Hematology, the Federal Trade Commission and the Census Bureau to create curriculum materials.

The division's programs are "designed to promote client objectives and meet the needs of target teachers, students, and parents" and "make a difference by influencing attitudes and behaviors," according to the company Web site.

"Promoting ‘client objectives' to a captive student audience isn't education," Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said in a statement. "It's predatory marketing. By selling its privileged access to children to the coal industry, Scholastic is commercializing classrooms and undermining education."

The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, a tiny group in Boston, has often been at odds with Scholastic, a $2 billion company whose books and other educational materials are in 9 of 10 American classrooms. Last year, the group criticized the company for its "SunnyD Book Spree," featured in Scholastic's Parent and Child magazine, in which teachers were encouraged to have classroom parties with, and collect labels from, Sunny Delight, a sugary juice beverage, to win free books. The campaign has also objected to Scholastic's promotion of Children's Claritin in materials it distributed on spring allergies.

And in 2005, the campaign tangled with the company over its "Tickle U" curriculum for the Cartoon Network, in which posters of cartoon characters were sent to preschools and promoted as helping young children develop a sense of humor.

None of the previous episodes led to any specific action.

The coal controversy seems to be the first time the campaign and its allies have challenged Scholastic lesson plans.

"‘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.

"The curriculum pretends that it's going to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of different energy choices, to align with national learning standards, but it doesn't," Mr. Bigelow said.

"The fact that coal is the major source of greenhouse gases in the United States is entirely left out," he said. "There's no hint that coal has any disadvantages."

In a statement, Ben Schreiber, a climate and energy tax analyst at Friends of the Earth, called the curriculum "the worst kind of corporate brainwashing."

According to an article by Alma Hale Paty, the executive director of the American Coal Foundation, and posted on Coalblog, "The United States of Energy" went to 66,000 fourth-grade teachers in 2009.

There was no answer at the foundation Wednesday, and Ms. Paty did not return calls.

Original here.