According to Cal/EPA, San Diego Unified School District among those implementing textbook
By Susanne Rust/California Watch
Under pressure from the American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group for the plastics industry, school officials in California edited a new environmental curriculum to include positive messages about plastic shopping bags, interviews and documents show.
The rewritten textbooks and teachers’ guides coincided with a public relations and lobbying effort by the chemistry council to fight proposed plastic bag bans throughout the country. But despite the positive message, activists say there is no debate: Plastic bags kill marine animals, leech toxic chemicals and take an estimated 1,000 years to decompose in landfills.
In 2009, a private consultant hired by California school officials added a new section to the 11th-grade teachers’ edition textbook called “The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags.” The title and some of the textbook language were inserted almost verbatim from letters written by the chemistry council.
Although the curriculum includes the environmental hazards of plastic bags, the consultant also added a five-point question to a workbook asking students to list some advantages. According to the teachers’ edition, the correct answer is: “Plastic shopping bags are very convenient to use. They take less energy to manufacture than paper bags, cost less to transport, and can be reused.”
Americans use an estimated 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year – almost all of which are thrown into the garbage. Grocery stores and other retailers spend about $4 billion a year to purchase the bags for customers.
“The American Chemistry Council obviously got engaged to protect their bottom line,” said Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, author of the 2003 legislation[PDF] requiring that environmental principles and concepts be taught in the state’s public schools. She had been unaware of the lobby’s efforts until contacted by California Watch.
The environmental curriculum, which took seven years to develop, is being tested at 19 school districts that include 140 schools and more than 14,000 students. An additional 400 school districts have signed up to use the curriculum, according to Bryan Ehlers, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant secretary for education and quality programs.
Other states have expressed interest in adopting the California curriculum, including Delaware and Maryland, Ehlers said.
Touted as the first public-private partnership of its kind, the trade group’s edit of California’s school curriculum illustrates a growing concern for special-interest influence over public education. It also shows how school officials abandoned some of their responsibility to write curriculum, handing the heavy lifting over to a paid consultant.
Just this month, Scholastic Inc. – a major textbook publisher – promised to limit its practice of collaborating with corporations to produce classroom materials. The New York-based publisher had been under pressure from parents and education groups to stop distributing a fourth-grade curriculum paid for by the coal industry.
The new California curriculum covers science, history, social studies and arts and weaves in environmental principles and concepts over 85 units and hundreds of pages. The full-color pages of the curriculum, which can be downloaded off the state’s website, mirror the look of a textbook. Teachers are encouraged to use the materials as handouts in the classroom and as reading assignments for students.
“Parents should be outraged that their kids are going to be potentially taught bogus facts written by a plastic-industry consultant suggesting advantages of plastic bags,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, a recycling and environmental lobbying group.
To read the rest of this article go to California Watch.