Of the 34.7 million students who attend U.S. elementary and middle public schools, 15.6% are African American. Those African-American children are 3 times more likely to die from asthma and visit emergency rooms 4.5 times more for asthma related problems. They have a 250% higher hospitalization rate and a 500% higher death rate from asthma. Seventy-one percent of Africa-Americans live in counties that violate federal air pollution standards.
So the idea that African-American children (any child, really, but these children in particular) would be subjected to the American Coal Foundation’s “United States of Energy” curriculum, written and promoted by Scholastic, is appalling. According to PRI’s Living on Earth, the “United States of Energy” curriculum extols the benefits of coal use (coal fired power plants) without any mention of its detrimental impacts. In response to this charge of imbalance, a Scholastic representative responded by email:
Since the program is designed for elementary schoolchildren, the materials do notattempt to cover all of the complex issues around the sourcing and consumption of energy.
Hmm, as a Texan, this simplistic, re-formulation of truth and history in educational curriculum sounds eerily familiar and utterly disturbing. Likely, a disproportionate number of African-American children in those 66,000 classrooms who have been subjected to this curriculum are living the impact of the pollution caused by coal-fired power plants. Unlike the depictions included in the curriculum, these plants have smoke stacks from which all kinds of poisonous toxins spew– one of the most toxic being mercury. One-in-six children are born every year with mercury levels high enough to impair their mental and motor development. Among African-American children, the numbers are proportionately higher. Other power plant pollutants like sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide are closely related to pediatric asthma among other health issues. Particulate Matter has been tied specifically to the development and exacerbation of asthma in African American children. It is highly likely, then, that some of the children in each of those classes have asthma, and if so, it’s even more likely those asthmatic children are African-American.
As an African-American mother deeply concerned about the health of my family, community and the children of this nation, I want to express my appreciation for your decision to scrap this project. I love the idea of educating children about how energy is generated to meet our growing consumption. There are so many important lessons here that our future leaders and citizens need to know, not the least of which is the cost and consequences of our energy use and choices. Students need to be given a balanced, accurate and fair representation of the subject—the good, the bad and the ugly. This was clearly not the intention of this curriculum, since important information, like the downside of coal use, is conspicuously missing. I personally believe even a fourth grader deserves to know part of the reason that inhaler is in his or her pocket.
As an old parent, I have learned that in order to encourage positive change or meaningful habit-forming, one must use positive reinforcement. I am acting on the assumption that positive reinforcement—that is, encouraging good results by rewarding positive change—works for companies, too. So I will refrain from traveling down a “what the hell were you thinking?” line of discussion about Scholastic’s decision to join with the American Coal Foundation on this curriculum. And instead, I choose to focus on your recent decision to abort this ill-conceived effort.
You have been a trusted presence in schools, public and private, certainly as long as I have been a parent. Through five children and a whole lot of bedtime reading, you have provided my family with enjoyable literary choices—The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, What to do About Alice?, Chasing Vermeer… You brought us Harry Potter, for Heaven’s sake! My oldest son loved your Goosebumps series. And even though I found those books a bit too disturbing for bedtime reading (at least for my own sensibilities), I sincerely believe they gave my son a major boost toward increased independent reading. I have participated in many of your book fairs in schools across this country and all of my kids have taken part in your book clubs. I have not always appreciated having those order forms shoved in my face at end of school day. But I have appreciated the excitement they create for little readers everywhere. I am one of a huge number of parents who have grown up with you, raised our children with you—trusted you.
I appreciate your willingness to revisit the appropriateness of promoting educational material that is lacking balance and truth by omission about a reality so detrimental to our air, environment and our health. SO thank you for re-thinking your rationale and your support of this ill-intentioned campaign. Thank you for putting a stop to it. Is it too little too late? Perhaps, since tens of thousands of classrooms have already received the materials. Still, I want to go on record as praising your decision now.
And I want to encourage you to remain vigilant. Scholastic is on my radar now. I am watching closely. Not just you, but the American Coal Foundation. I am watching for the obvious—like the American Coal Foundation’s and other’s efforts to stall the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to enforce the Clean Air Act. And I am watching for the more insidious, like this attempt at school- level propaganda. But I want you to know I appreciate that Scholastic (finally) did the right thing here.
Cross posted at Mom’s Clean Air Force!