Published on Monday, November 27, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
Would the World's Largest Science Teacher's Organization Ignore Climate Change Education?
(Why did the NSTA say no to free "An Inconvenient Truth" DVDs?)
by John Borowski
The National Teachers Association (NSTA) has spurned 50,000 free DVDs of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and is squandering a golden opportunity to educate tens of millions of youth in the United States! Why? This 55,000- member organization of teachers and scientists could use Al Gore's film to orchestrate the single most influential educational goal in human history: the awareness and subsequent solving of climate change. There is no denying the escalating list of climate change evidence: from the potential extinction of Polar bears and retreating glacial environments to the increase of global temperatures in unison with increased carbon dioxide levels.
Laurie David, a producer on the film An Inconvenient Truth, helped to broker a "sweet deal" for the NSTA. Sitting in an LA warehouse are 50,000 free DVDs just waiting to be given out to every member of the NSTA. No strings, no catches, just a clear and simple agenda: provide teachers with a spectacular and scientifically acclaimed production to engage millions of students nationwide. And the NSTA states, "No?"
Is the NSTA placing economic expediency over "true science education", do they fear the alienation of funders such as Exxon and the fossil powerhouse the American Petroleum Institute? Laurie David, who is also the founder of StopGlobalWarming.org received an email refusal of the free teaching materials from the NSTA that is ominous and foreboding.
The NSTA wrote that acceptance of the DVDs would place an "unnecessary risk upon the (NSTA) capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." Also in the email, NSTA claimed that they didn't want to offer "political" endorsement of the film and they saw "little, if any benefit to NSTA or its members" in accepting the free DVDs. No benefit to teachers? Science teachers across the country are under-funded, overworked and often grab on to free lessons and materials as a matter of "educational survival 101." What I find despicable is that the NSTA if fully aware of that need and sadly, often aids and abets the "Fossil fuel cartels." They often deny or mislead on climate change and provide teachers with everything from "coal coloring books" to misleading videos such as "Fuel-less-You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel." Simply stated, the NSTA's refusal to distribute Al Gore's film is an unmitigated disaster that will tarnish their reputation as "brokers" of credible science materials, while squandering a prolific moment in educational history: the chance to allow students to become energy pioneers.
I wrote in Commondreams.org about this dilemma and three special sentences comes to mind from a July 7th, 2005 piece in which I write an open letter to NSTA Executive Director about the distribution of corporate sponsored materials via the NSTA: In a recent NSTA annual report document, Exxon Mobil Foundation President Edward Ahnert explains its "partnership" with the NSTA clearly. "NSTA is such a natural partner for us. No other organization has the ability to reach thousands of teachers who share ExxonMobil's commitment to improving science education." The question that begs to be answered Mr. Wheeler is this: can you trust Exxon Mobil?
Exxon recognizes the incredible power of distributing its materials to teachers. Exxon-Mobil makes no apologies for their anti-climate change stance, funds "misinformation campaigns" like the American Petroleum Institutes' (API) 1998 "Science Education Task Force" created to debunk climate change and publishes ads in newspapers to cast doubt on climate change. And the NSTA has the brazen nerve to state that they expressed concern over taking Al Gore's movie because of "special interests?"
The NSTA's own admittance about refusing the Gore DVD because it would place "unnecessary risk" upon their own capital campaign speaks volume to the mess we are in and must correct. Big oil and climate despoilers own the airways and advertising sections of magazines with their "half-truths" about climate and continued demand for using coal, oil and gas. Look at the Scientific American magazine's first four pages (December 2006) it shamelessly has a Chevron spread that pushes use of oil tar sands and states "Oil, natural gas and coal have been the energy workhorses for the last 100 years, and will continue to play a crucial role in the next 100 years." Or how about BalancedEnergy.org with their teenage television actors claiming "Learn about coal!" Go to the site and see the preverbal cool teenager holding a skateboard named Adam stating, that he is "pretty stoked" and that he "learned more about American coal" and lastly, "thankfully we can have it all" with coal! Will 10,000- 14,000 teachers return home after attending the NSTA national conference March 29 -April 1st (St.Louis), 2007 with more oil and coal propaganda? Know this, teachers go to these conferences for ideas and materials. The ongoing joke about attending a NSTA conference is this, "Bring two suitcases: one for your clothes and one for all the freebies!"
I am an environmental science teacher of 26 years and I have a steamer trunk of materials from NSTA's past conferences:
Our youngest teachers need help to plan and write lesson plans, engage students in critical, scientific scenarios like climate change and help those students face those challenges with facts in hand. The NSTA is the logical leader on this front with their prestige and deep pockets. Will the NSTA tacitly sit back and even conspire with the likes of Exxon-Mobil to fill this void? Exxon-Mobil and Monsanto and the American Petroleum Institute have little interest in providing science data: instead, they see flooding our schools with their "dubious science" as the last component of a major PR effort to continue profits and damn the consequences.
Climate change is an environmental challenge of epic proportions. Humans have never faced a dilemma that could so radically change the face of the planet: not just ecologically, but economically and culturally. Students, as our youngest citizens, have always been the targets of our civically minded democracy that is fostered by our public education system in the United States. Our free public education system is bound by law and moral compass to provide students (via their teachers) with a world- class education that bestows the tools of critical thinking and access to factual data. The hope is that those tools grow our democracy and equip our children to be ecologically fluent as well as become civic-minded voters who can read, write and invest in our political system.
It is not too late for Gerald Wheeler and the NSTA to find the courage and educational moral high ground by accepting those 50,000 free DVDs sitting in an LA warehouse. If you are a teacher, student, parent or citizen: please email Gerald Wheeler at email@example.com and tell him that the special interest that would benefit from those DVDs would be our children! Ask the NSTA via Mr. Wheeler to reconsider their alliances with the American Petroleum Institute, Exxon-Mobil and Project Learning Tree. How can it be educationally sound to allow big industry at your conferences and receive your "education awards" but not to discuss climate change? Find the emails to your favorite "Big Green organization" (from the Sierra Club to Audubon to Defenders of Wildlife) and ask them: "why aren't you in the schoo ls giving out sound, ecological data and why aren't you at the NSTA conferences?"
Folks like Al Gore and Laurie David are providing an invaluable tool that could be used not just in science, but also in health, economics, history and English classes. Learning about the current state of the climate should be akin to learning the A, B, Cs or basic math. An Inconvenient Truth has the hard data all American kids need to know and act on. Just like recycling became a national mindset through the lessons taught by teachers and brought home by children, climate change can be solved. Doesn't the world's largest science teachers' organization owe this to our children?
John F. Borowski is a science teacher of 26 years; his pieces have appeared in the N.Y. Times, UTNE Reader, Counterpunch, Commondreams and many other sites. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and urges you to email Gerald Wheeler.