by John F. Borowski
For more than a decade, writing for numerous newspapers, magazines and websites, I have attempted to cast a light on “industrial strength” science curriculum: “that curriculum of the corporation, by the corporation and for a corporation’s profits…shall indeed hasten the rate of destruction of the earth’s resources and indeed, people may perish from the earth.” I have been an utter failure at convincing many in the environmental community of the importance of reaching out to these 55 million students as future voting citizens that must be ecologically literate and that power of ecological knowledge: in generating a “love of place,” while igniting a genuine, passionate and active response to the looming ecological crisis of species extinction, deforestation and climate change. Never has such a large group of humans’ gone untapped and ignored in the process of creating change in the name of social good.
Yet, corporate entities — I refuse to call them people or humans, despite the 14th amendment’s entitlement of personhood to corporate America (a “slave reversal” proposition, where citizens became beholden and indentured lapdogs to corporate greed and power) — now spend millions of dollars yearly to spawn “science curriculum” for the public good. Theirs is not a curriculum of science: it is the “science of death.” I do not state this glibly or in anger, I state it based in fact. From timber funded “Project Learning Tree” to the charade of energy education by the cartel of oil pimps better known as the “American Petroleum Institute,” teachers are unwittingly and tragically “teaching” concepts that students may embrace that encourage more oil consumption, more clear cutting and greater avoidance of ecological tenets that clearly state that the earth as a sustainable system is on “life support.”
Last week (I will admit that I am a television news junkie) I watched in stunned horror as a Conoco-Philips’ commercial touted its “energy educational materials” for teachers. Is this the same Conoco-Philips that wants to exploit wildlife rich Amazon jungle habitat and their native cultures for black gold? Is this the same Conoco-Philips that touts “clean coal” technology: an oxymoron that ranks in its hypocrisy with phrases like “sustainable development” and “smart growth?” You know, the Conoco-Philips who had their director of corporate communications, Bill Tanner, state to the Times of Trenton, “The oil and gas industry has lost touch with the public.” No problem, let’s take a sliver of our huge oil profits to lie to teachers — and their students.
Sitting in front of me I have “Project Learning Tree” curriculum, which like an educational malignancy has spread falsehoods, half-truths and obfuscations about forest ecology in classrooms around the nation, now embraces working with the American Petroleum Institute on energy issues: rife with more corporate friendly “science” at the expense of substantive ecological truths. In their “energy module” (that is a laugh): there is no substantive discussion on climate change, acidification of the oceans or peak oil. For years, I have toiled to inform teachers that Project Learning Tree, funded by timber dollars and given cover by some so-called “green groups” is the poster child for the ultimate “guilty of the worst sin — omission” curriculum I have ever thumbed through. Yes, detractors will whine, “But, John, it has some good materials.” Yes, it does, yet, does that provide cover and forgiveness for not thoroughly explaining that tree farms are not forests? That clear cutting old growth and soon-to-be old growth forests is a climate change debacle (all recent data show these forests as carbon reservoirs)? Those years of forest fragmentation have caused large predators to decline, watersheds to dry and erosion to eradicate thousands of years of soil building. Project Learning Tree is a vehicle to put a “smiley face” on an industry that lies repeatedly about forest ecology, bilked taxpayers of billions of dollars in welfare subsidies, manipulated lawmakers to encourage more deforestation and most grotesquely; made our children’s planet less livable.
Why do environmentalists ignore education? I am at a loss. Blame teachers? I say no, they are busy and yearning for good, lab-based, hands-on curriculum. In the absence of “green groups” providing sound educational data, industry has filled the void. Here is the twist: show me a single, peer-reviewed science document that doesn’t state that all major ecosystems are not in decline. Climate change and species loss lurk around us much like the Grim reaper’s scythe. And to imagine a world where climate change irreversibly has altered weather patterns or a planet where 40-50% of our “fellow species” are gone forever is too painful to face, especially in light of the fact that there is time for a massive reversal of fortune. 55 million students are awaiting a clarion call to action: not activism, not maligned “environmentalism,” no, a lifestyle that can be sustained, can be rewarding and can undue the layers of corporate spin that leaves them “comfortably numb” in a world of virtual reality and empty materialism. Finally, students as adults build a sustainable economy where all “natural resources” are given a true dollar value: where treating forests, watersheds, wildlife as if they were a business in liquidation is considered ethically ignorant as well as “very bad business.” Where nature is watched as closely as an “ecological Dow Jones” because our natural world is collapsing as we lament the current economic downturn and that natural capital is what life and its rewards are made of.
Big green groups: Pool together resources to help teachers in their quest to make students’ ecologically fluent. Journalists: Expose the agenda of this corrosive curriculum. Enlighten and motivate citizens to action. Parents: Demand that corporate America be tarred and feathered and chased out of the education business, or should I say corporations in the miseducation business. That your children be given exciting, lifelong science learning. Education organizations: Demand that corporate sponsored curriculum be put through a detailed screening process. Expose the sham and shame of education by Weyerhaeuser, ExxonMobil and API. Filmmakers: Make documentaries and “student friendly” visuals that document mountain top removal, extinction of species, peak oil, the insanity of an economic system that is based on devouring our own life support system (we cannot depend on Viacom, General Electric and Disney to provide this on their corporate TV channels). Teachers: know this, our students are hungry for real science that they can feel, see and stirs a gut reaction. They are hungry for becoming “doers”, they are hungry for curriculum that stimulates thought and debate, that breeds passion and desire to ensure our planet’s resources exist well into the future.
Teachers: Say no to Concoco-Philips’ self-contrived educational myths of clean coal or American Petroleum Institute’s oil-soaked diatribes that “we have enough to power 60 million cars and heat 160 million households for 60 years” or PLT’s mantra of we can have it all: by cutting our natural forests and replacing them with sterile monocultures. The “science of death” has no place in our schools, our workplace or in our society. Teach that.
John F. Borowski fights for environmental education. His last administration secretly photographed cartoons and ecological readings on his classroom walls. Despite 28 years of grand evaluations, teacher of the year of awards, state Senate resolutions honoring his work: he was written up for insubordination. He recently fought the charge and had the charges reversed. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org