Friday, October 30, 2009

Propaganda or Education?

I received the following message on Facebook from Friends of the Mountains, which I support for their work against Mountaintop Removal (see my blog Sustainable Rays, for more on this.) But the message here was about a company sponsored field trip and "educational" materials, which are basically propaganda, purporting to demonstrate local history. Now if the Friends of the Mountains come back with educational materials, will Big Coal call that propaganda?  
[Added Nov 1: Here are a lot of teacher resources that tell the other side of the story, from I Love Mountains.]
BECKLEY, W.Va. -- The Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary wrapped up its first Coal in the Classroom program in the Raleigh County public schools with a field trip this week.

Its pro-coal curriculum was piloted at a private elementary school last year.

On Tuesday, Stratton Elementary School's fourth-grade class traveled to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine for a firsthand look at an underground mine.

It's the first class in the West Virginia public school system to host the program. With the help of local retired teachers, the curriculum was developed by the Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary. Regina Fairchild is the chairwoman.

"We just make it as lighthearted as possible but informative,'' she said. "We just want to educate them about our vital resource in our area and in the United States.''

The program consists of a coloring book that illustrates how coal is mined underground and at surface mines. It also shows how coal is burned for energy we use in electricity. And you can find phrases like "The advantages of coal'' and "Why coal is important,'' as well.

Some environmental groups say the Friends of Coal program doesn't belong in public schools.

Assistant Superintendent of Raleigh County Schools Janet Lilly says they are willing to look at any curriculum from the environmental community.

"We really looked at the curriculum and what they planned to do,'' she said. "We're open to any group that's willing to do the match and present the curriculum, and if there's someone that objects to the curriculum that's out there with the auxiliary, we'd be glad to look at their curriculum, too.''

Raleigh County School Board member Larry Ford says the board also evaluated the fairness of the material.

"We didn't want it to be lopsided,'' he said. "We wanted it to be a generic form of presentations to the kids showing them the history of coal.

"We're not trying to tell them one thing is better than the other. The content standards had to be met as far as their learning is concerned. We're not picking sides, we are here for the education of the students, period.''

Lorelei Scarbro with Coal River Mountain Watch says her organization is working on an elementary school curriculum about alternative energy. She's not sure when it will be finished.

Meanwhile, Coal River Mountain Watch is working with another environmental group called Aurora Lights to produce curriculum for high school and college students across West Virginia, with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council.

"Journey up Coal River'' includes lesson plans such as "What is mountaintop removal?'' and "Public health impacts of coal mining,'' and includes links to pro-environmental Web sites such as, according to Jennifer Osha, founder and president of Aurora Lights.

"What I really wanted to do is for college students to engage in the complexity of this issue and really use their own ideas and what they're interested in to feel to what parts they most want to engage in,'' Osha said. "We also provide them with resources both academic and activist that they can come and learn about what's happening.''

Osha also questioned the fairness of the Friends of Coal curriculum, but Fairchild says it's appropriate for elementary school students.

"Our curriculum is balanced. For heaven sake we're talking to third- and fourth-graders,'' she said. "You're not going to get technical and you're not going to talk numbers.''
(I added the links to the text.)

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