John F. Borowski
Orange County Convention Center is big. Big enough to hold the
Sears Tower, if you laid it on its side. So big you could walk
10 miles and never leave the cement behemoth. A hulking structure
like this was necessary to host the recent National Science Teachers
Convention, the largest gathering of educators in the nation:
more than 14,000 science teachers, and hundreds of exhibitors
passing out armloads of pamphlets, packets, books, stickers, posters,
and other goodies.
of conservation groups were on hand offering teachers inspiration
and information on how to teach about environmental issues, but
they were clearly in the minority.
When I started
teaching 20 years ago, I could not have imagined such a perverse
display: industries and their front groups trying to justify everything
from deforestation to the extinction of species
The coal industry's
Greening Earth Society passed out videos and teacher guides on
the "fallacies" of global warming. The "Temperate
Forest Foundation" offered a video titled The Dynamic Forest,
in which insects and fire hurt forests, but industry provides
the needed remedies--with the help of chain saws. The American
Farm Bureau, avowed enemies of environmental education, propositioned
teachers to reconsider the dangers of chemical herbicides and
selling lies, and the teachers were buying--quickly filling their
bags with curricula as corrosive as the pesticides that the Farm
Bureau promotes. Where were the largest environmental groups to
counter this frontal assault on environmental education? Where
was the outcry of the educational community? Most Americans consider
our public schools to be hallowed ground, where young people learn
about the world through carefully chosen curriculum. Yet corporations
now view schools as convenient locations for the dissemination
of propaganda debunking environmental concerns.
education is under assault on two fronts. First, multinational
corporations are designing and distributing environmental curricula
that are professionally produced, easy to use, often free, and
incredibly biased in favor of industry. Second, some of the most
prominent conservative think tanks in America are mounting a well-funded
attack on genuine environmental education.
is simple: protect industries that despoil the planet and put
the brakes on the emergence of environmental awareness among young
people. The spectrum of curricula is breathtaking and its shamelessness
is overt. The American Nuclear Society provides "Let's Color
and Do Activities with the Atoms Family." Materials I received
from Exxon portray the Prince William Sound cleanup as a victory
of technology, brushing over the cause of the disaster: the Exxon
Valdez. But the most brazen miseducation campaign is carried out
by the timber industry.
spends millions on so-called educational programs (which, of course,
they generously donate to public schools). They offer hikes, presentations,
and paid workshops for teachers. They distribute books, posters,
videos, lesson plans, and other materials. Through the looking
glass of big timber, old-growth forests become biological problems
that require clear-cutting in order to survive. Logging companies
are not cutting the forests, the propaganda explains, it is "managing"
them, acting as their stewards--even saviors.
from Dr. Suess' conservationist classic The Lorax, is one of the
"educational" materials distributed to schools produced
by the Hardwood Forest Foundation and the National Oak Flooring
Manufacturers Association. The colorful book, written and illustrated
in the Suess style, chronicles Truax, a calm and thoughtful logger,
who tries to explain the "facts" of forest management
to the psychotic treehugger Guardbark.
very organizations that preach the gospel of environmental education
are actually industry shills. They have earthy names but clandestine
roots. The American Forest Foundation (AFF) has a list of co-sponsors,
cooperators, and partners that includes some of the most egregious
despoilers of our forests: Sierra Pacific Industries, champion
of clear-cuts in California; The Pacific Lumber Company, loggers
of the redwoods; MacMillan Bloedel Packaging; Willamette Industries;
Boise Cascade Corporation. One AFF project, Project Learning Tree,
which works to promote logging and industrial management of our
nation's forest, has reached more than 500,000 teachers and some
25 million students from prekindergarten to 12th grade.
public relations campaigns and deceptive advertising are battling
today for the hearts and minds of our children. And they're winning.
The North America Association of Environmental Education (the
largest environmental education group in the world) has endorsed
Project Learning Tree. Parents and citizens in general must assume
the role of frontline warriors if environmental education is to
remain meaningful. They must demand that any curricula provided
by corporate sources be reviewed, just as textbooks are reviewed
prior to being adopted. They must challenge their local boards
of education to keep schools free of corporate propaganda. They
must study the materials children receive at school. Corporate
PR campaigns in classrooms are reminiscent of tobacco companies'
secretive strategy of peddling cigarettes to teens. Their effort
must be brought into the full light of day.