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Why is Scholastic Selling Kids on Coal?

Posted May. 12, 2011 / Posted by: Nick Berning

For Immediate Release

Contact: 
Nick Berning (202-222-0748; nberning@foe.org); Josh Golin (617-896-9369; josh@commercialfreechildhood.org); Bill Bigelow, Rethinking Schools (503-282-6848; bill@rethinkingschools.org)

Advocates Urge Publisher to Shelve Industry-Funded 'Curriculum'

BOSTON -- May 11 -- “Stop selling elementary school students on coal.”  That’s the message advocates for children, education, and the environment are sending Scholastic, Inc.  The American Coal Foundation hired Scholastic to produce The United States of Energy, PR materials that were packaged as a curriculum and distributed to tens of thousands of 4th grade classrooms around the country. Today, Rethinking Schools, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and Friends of the Earth launched a letter-writing campaign demanding that Scholastic immediately stop distributing the curriculum.

The United States of Energy is designed to paste a smiley face on the dirtiest form of energy in the world,” said Bill Bigelow, Curriculum Editor of Rethinking Schools magazine, and author of “Scholastic, Inc. Pushing Coal: A 4th Grade Curriculum Lies Through Omission.”  “It’s more important than ever that schools teach fully and honestly about coal and other forms of energy.  These materials teach children only the story the coal industry has paid Scholastic to tell.”

Teachers are told that The United States of Energy aligns with national standards because the lessons teach children “that different types of energy (e.g., solar, fossil fuels) have different advantages and disadvantages.”  The lessons do extol the advantages of coal, but they fail to mention a single disadvantage.

Scholastic’s materials teach that coal is abundant and mined and burned for energy, but contain nothing about its impact on the environment and human health. Nothing about the hundreds of Appalachian mountains leveled to get at coal seams.  Nothing about the poisons released when coal is burned—like sulfur dioxide, mercury, and arsenic—which the American Lung Association says kill thousands of people every year.  And nothing about the fact that burning coal is the single greatest contributor to human-created, climate-altering greenhouse gases. 

“Pure and simple, this is an example of the worst kind of corporate brainwashing,” said Friends of the Earth Climate and Energy Tax Analyst Ben Schreiber.  “It is unconscionable that Scholastic would lend its name to legitimize American Coal Foundation propaganda.  Coal continues to kill thousands of Americans every year and it is particularly harmful to children.” 

“What's frightening is remembering my excitement about the Scholastic book fair when I was in grade school,” said Kyle Ash, Senior Legislative Representative for Greenpeace USA.  “A partnership between Scholastic and ACF, a coal-industry front group based in Washington, is more than nauseating and unethical, it is a pockmark on the US education system.  It is clear that the coal industry intends to systematically undermine long-term political support for energy policy that is sustainable and economic.”

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 the over-the-counter drug Claritin in elementary schools, to urging teachers to throw parties for the sugar-laden beverage SunnyD 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.” 

“Promoting ‘client objectives’ to a captive student audience isn’t education; it’s predatory marketing,” said CCFC’s Executive Director Dr. Susan Linn.  “By selling its privileged access to children to the coal industry, Scholastic is commercializing classrooms and undermining education.” 

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. 

Added Dr. Linn, “By working for the coal industry, Scholastic clearly abuses parents’ trust.  There’s a clear difference between industry driven PR and teaching materials that are objective and genuinely educational.”

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The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (www.commercialfreechildhood.org) is a national coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups and concerned parents who counter the harmful effects of marketing to children through action, advocacy, education, research, and collaboration among organizations and individuals who care about children. CCFC is a project of Third Sector New England (www.tsne.org).

Rethinking Schools (www.rethinkingschools.org) is a nonprofit organization that publishes a quarterly magazine and other educational materials.  Rethinking Schools seeks to provide practical guidance and supportive networking for educators who want to offer academically challenging curricula for all students and to engage students in learning contexts that emphasize equality, anti-racism, and social justice.

Friends of the Earth (http://foe.org/) is fighting to defend the environment and create a more healthy and just world. Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.

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