Most people who went to school in the United States know of Scholastic books. You might not have heard until last week that they were pushing coal industry propaganda on 4th-graders. We teamed up with Center for Commercial-Free Childhood, Rethinking Schools, and Friends of the Earth in asking Scholastic to reconsider a contract with the American Coal Foundation (ACF).
Materials provided in the United States of Energy teach children the benefits of coal-fired power but conveniently fail to point out any of its foibles. A few include blowing tops of thousands of mountains, spreading 110 million tons of toxic ash around the country every year, and there's that climate change thing.
I can't really say it any better than the description of ACF on Kentucky's educational network television website: “ACF’s objective is to educate the public about the advantages and potential of coal: It’s abundant; it’s affordable; it’s American; and with the commercialization of innovative new technologies, it can be used in an environmentally acceptable manner.” ACF manages to get its url onto the websites of departments of eduction, where teachers can pull down lesson plans such as one in which children mine chocolate chips out of cookies.
While we expect the coal industry to lie that coal can be affordable and environmentally acceptable, should we have really expected Scholastic to become the coal industry's hired clown? It turns out this isn't the first time that Scholastic has shown poor judgment. Last year, for instance, the US Chamber of Commerce borrowed Scholastic's goodwill to cajole middle-schoolers into supporting polluters rather than federal pollution limits to protect children.
Scholastic has produced good materials. I myself recall being excited in 1st grade about the Scholastic book fair. And the realm of influence of Scholastic expands far beyond the borders of elementary school playgrounds in the United States. Greenpeace has been engaged with Scholastic before, pushing the company to use recycled paper when printing chronicles of Harry Potter. They even published a book in which Greenpeace was a main character.
On Friday Scholastic admitted that they 'were not vigilant enough as to the effect of sponsorship…', and over the weekend pulled the ACF materials off its website. We've won this battle, but not before thousands of schools received the materials. Scholastic needs to do more than avoid contracts with polluter lobbyists in the future. Scholastic needs to recall United States of Energy and publicly explain how its internal review will result in a better, brighter company. As a for-profit company with direct access to children's minds, mistakes like this ACF incident mean Scholastic has to work hard to regain credibility.