of Ecological Literacy Under Siege: Our Public Schools
A Ford Motor Company donation of $1.5 million dollars to “Provider Pals” epitomizes the quest for extractive industries and their spawn to conquer society’s last, un-commercialized bastion: our public school system. Provider Pals is the latest attempt to run the gauntlet and blow wide open the proverbial doors of fairness, objectivity, and sound science found in schools and replace it with nothing short of corporate America’s wish list. And that list has a long history of distortions, half-truths, and bold-faced lies.
Provider Pals, organized by Bruce Vincent, an outspoken defender of logging, mining and grazing on public lands, is brilliantly orchestrated with a charismatic, yet simple objective. Put a face on miners, loggers and ranchers: a very happy face indeed. Bringing his minstrel show to urban areas, Vincent and his happy band of “providers” apparently show the “city kiddies” how wood, meat and other resources are brought to the market. Central to this theme, is the pretext that no good American would criticize American icons like the cowboy and logger. Industry has often used workers as pawns; millions of dollars were spent on the timber corporation’s PR ploy to pit loggers versus Spotted Owls. Loggers were not the bad guys, it was the likes of Boise Cascade and Weyerhaeuser who butchered millions of acres of watersheds, fragmented forests on a scale never seen before and used “cut and run” techniques caring little about workers and their communities.
The irony of programs like Provider Pals is while they tug at our ‘heart-strings’, and have a valid message in terms of good, hard working rural folk, the omissions in the classroom are akin to a corporate commercial. Will the urban kids be made privy to information about predator control and vile, toxic substances like Compound 1080 (one of the world’s most lethal chemicals) that are used by grazing interests to destroy our nation’s predators? Will the logger character discuss the fact that only 4% of our native forests still stand, that tree farms and massive clear-cutting have lead to our current fire dangers? Will the miner expose the 1872 Mining Law, which leads to legal theft of hard-rock minerals, while companies pay no royalties and the public picks up the cost of abandoned mines? On all cases, the answer is very doubtful.
The Wood Promotion Network suggests on their website that the Ford donation is an attempt by the auto giant to make nice with extractive industries. Or as the website gleefully notes, “the initiatives are part of Ford’s earlier commitment resulting from an overwhelming response to advertorials and previous grants by the Ford Fund that damaged the reputation of wood and the wood industry on product and environmental issues.” A Ford donation to the National Audubon was seen as an immoral act by those “Wise Use folks” who cannot fathom a rational discussion on environmental issues, unless it is crafted, tailored and pigeon holed to fit industry’s set of myths about resource abuse, and their age old denial of being nothing more than shysters.
But if a puppet show doesn’t work, Mr. Vincent can follow the lead of the American Petroleum Institute. Exposed by the N.Y Times for trying to create”junk science” curricula, to downplay global warming, and cast the Kyoto Protocol into the same category as leprosy, API tried the clandestine route: seek cover from an established charlatan. They helped fund a module on energy for Project Learning Tree, an educational program funded by the American Forest Foundation. Project Learning Tree, fond of ignoring forest issues like clear cutting, monocultures, short rotation forestry, the track record of multinationals on public lands, is a powerful player in environmental education with the backing of the nation’s most powerful and ecologically unsound timber corporations. In the absence of big environmental organizations providing sound curricula, teachers are being bamboozled into using PLT materials and its’ omission filled agenda.
Sitting on the “panel” for this illustrious energy packet was the American Coal Foundation, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute. API president Red Cavaney sat on the panel himself, and he is an avid supporter of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The American Coal Foundation has been chastised for their previous foray into science curricula. “Power from Coal” was cited by educators as commercial and incomplete, downplaying the effects of carbon dioxide and actually suggested the earth could “benefit rather than be harmed from increased carbon dioxide.” Lastly, the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers is fighting California’s attempt to regulate emissions from cars to combat global warming. Now there is nothing like adding rogues to your existing “Rogues Gallery” to circumvent a fair and even discussion on pressing environmental issues like energy?
And if all fails, go the “Operation Greenout” route. Gestated in Oregon, Operation Greenout uses inflammatory rhetoric to castigate environmental education. Literacy in environmental issues is depicted as “eco-child abuse” and “indoctrination”. Earth Day is seen as the unholy celebratory date for druids and the Lorax. Several times in their literature they coldly warn us, “You cannot trust the greens.” Deeper inspection of their data suggests that they are nothing more than mouthpieces for the Wise Use movement. Yes, it is a shrill and transparent approach, yet fear is a wonderful motivator.
While the fortress of public schools, have withstood these attacks, the cracks are showing. Growing state deficits means less funding for curricula. Educators are being tempted to use corporate curricula that offer a “fast food approach” to learning: the questions and answers are the best that industry can cook up, similar to corporate profit sheets and exaggerated financial gains. Corporate America knows as long as students have literacy in environmental issues, there will always be Rachel Carson and Cesar Chavez types in the American lexicon. And that is not permissible in a corporate run world, were knowledge is seen as a roadblock to quarterly profits.
Yes, it must be frustrating for certain corporations. They have unfettered access to the airways, given their monopoly on the television. Their pockets are deep and massive sums of money can be afforded to propaganda campaigns. American culture is increasingly being dictated by our citizens’ dizzying compliance to fulfilling their ego and spiritual satisfaction through consumption and paying less and less heed to meaningful dialogue about the consequences. But, there has always been that outpost of hope, a roadblock if you will, that prevents free education from becoming “owned and paid for education.”
Our public schools offer our youngest citizens access to scientific information not tainted or presented with outcomes already determined. Discussion and critical thinking, in the absence of corporate come-ons, will determine the best possible road to sustaining resources for eons to come. And if this bastion gives way to the knaves who would manipulate their own mothers to generate greater stock options, then, we as a free and just society will see democracy erode and blow away as so much dust found in a clearcut, overgrazed prairie or neglected strip-mine.