The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has removed coal-related educational sections from its website, less than two weeks after the launch of a grassroots campaign demanding that the pages be taken down.
The website sections were supposed to educate children about energy, but had been widely denounced because they focused on misleading pro-coal messages.
It wasn't just environmentalists who objected to the way Illinois was talking about coal to kids. Last month, a state-commissioned evaluation of the Illinois coal education program determined that the curriculum, including the website, was "biased towards a positive image of coal."
As pressure increased on the department to take action, staff members initially claimed that they were too broke to fix the problem. Then the pages disappeared from the site on Monday. Earlier screen shots show sections called "Education" and "Kid's Site," neither of which was visible when YES! checked the DCEO site today. (See image above.)
"This is a victory for our children and schools," said Sam Stearns, a former coal miner who helped to organize for the site to be changed, "and a first step toward refashioning an energy education program that tells the truth about the health and environmental impacts of coal mining and burning."
In the CREDO petition Stearns launched, along with former country music singer and environmentalist Mark Donham, the two criticized the website's downplay of environmental impacts and safety issues among miners, especially black lung disease.
They also singled out the use of a cartoon figure that told children that land reclamation efforts after strip-mining return the land "the way it was or better than before mining."
Along with CREDO, Stearns was joined by national children's groups such as Rethinking Schools, the Zinn Education Project, and the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which led a successful campaign two years ago to expose the "United States of Energy," a curriculum published by Scholastic but bankrolled by the American Coal Foundation.
"It's not surprising that a desperate industry would try and win children's hearts and minds," said Josh Golin, the campaign's associate director. "But it's beyond disappointing that state education officials would help dirty coal with this dirty mission."
Bill Bigelow, curriculum editor at Rethinking Schools magazine and co-director of the Zinn Education Project, found the outcome encouraging.
"They can only get away with this because people haven't demanded that it stop," he said. "Now, they have."
Jeff Biggers wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Winner of the David R. Brower Award for Environmental Reporting, Jeff is the author of Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland, among other books. His website is www.jeffbiggers.com.