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Leading Source Of Children's Books Partners With Big Oil

by John F. Borowski

Corporations Blanket Schools With Industry- Friendly Messages

Poor "Clifford the Big Red Dog" must be hiding submissively in his doghouse, tail between his legs, embarrassed by Scholastic's newest partner: the American Petroleum Institute. Scholastic, well known for Clifford and numerous other children's titles is a $2 billion corporate power, claiming to be the "Most Trusted Name in Learning. " They now provide "Powering Your World" an energy website developed by the American Petroleum Institute (API). It is fitting, that Scholastic holds "Star Wars" as a licensed property: API is a real life Darth Vader.

On Scholastic's own website you can find "Powering Your World" developed by Scholastic and API. These lesson plans, with corresponding student handouts even meet the national science standards-based program for grades 6-8. Kids can learn about the "Story of Gasoline" or "Energy in the World." Oil is used in plastics, medicines and some of children's favorite items like DVD's. Students are warned that fossil fuels make up 85 percent of our nation's energy sources. What is not discussed is most telling. No discussion of climate change, the legacy of oil spills, or the need for renewable energy sources. In Activity one, "Make Energy Connections" a word scramble activity uses worlds like: refinery, car, nuclear plant, coal mine, electric generating plant and oil well. How about Chernobyl, strip mine, Exxon Valdez, SUV, fuel cell or windmill? They are all absent. Can't you hear poor, old Clifford barking, "Say it ain't so Scholastic?" How could this most trusted provider of children's books provide legitimacy for the likes of the American Petroleum Institute?

Let's be blunt: API is not about education, rather indoctrination. Their agenda is guilty of the two most heinous cardinal sins in education: omission and dishonesty. Education is built on fluency of data and interpreting that data through critical thought. API's intentions are to mislead children, distancing them from their critical thought processes. API loathes that children growing into voting citizens might open their eyes to global climate change, the folly of drilling in pristine lands such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the suicidal dependence on nonrenewable fuels. Acting as an educational carpetbagger with the assistance of Scholastic enables this petroleum based Trojan horse unlimited access to children. Scholastic's own website claims that Scholastic's products are virtually in every public school in the United States. API's spin- doctors must drool when they consider the possibilities of debunking ecological concerns that rightfully so haunt their industry.

The American Petroleum Institute is not fond of environmental education or data that puts their industry into a negative light. In April of 1998, oil lobbyists met to launch a $6 million plan to cast doubt on global warming and thrust a dagger into public support for the Kyoto Protocol, a global plan to squelch climate change. One sentence of a leaked memo summed up the intentions of API. "Informing teachers/students about uncertainties in climate science will begin to erect barriers against further efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future." API would set up a $300,000 fund to dupe teachers and their students. Companies such as Exxon and Chevron attended this meeting and were key funders. According to API spokesman, Joseph Lastelic, "Most of the time, the balance is not there on the environment. It's (environmental education) harming us economically and harming our energy security." Using free videotapes, posters, overhead teacher's visuals and computer software, API had a goal: "to get children to influence their parents' views and to create a favorable image in the minds of future decision makers." In other words: lie to children, omit any substantive discussion on the negative effects of continued oil use and use teachers as unwitting accomplices in a "big lie."

The N.Y. Times leaked the story and API came under strong criticism. The Executive Director (Gerald Wheeler) of the National Science Teachers Association, the largest group of science teachers in the nation, called API's efforts "irresponsible." Oh how a few years and a new sham has made API more dangerous with more access to the nation's classrooms.

First API teamed up with Project Learning Tree. Project Learning Tree is the most heralded and widely used environmental curriculum in the United States. API needed to recast themselves as a caring cartel of benevolent oil interests. As if riding the coattails of a so-called reputable provider of environmental education could restore their tarnished credibility. Ironically, Project Learning Tree is an education program of the American Forest Foundation: predominantly funded by the worst timber corporations on earth. Now joining PLT was the "axis of evil": Exxon Mobil, API and Chevron. Interestingly the same three stooges that were stung by bad press in 1998 employed a new strategy. Together, API and PLT awash with dirty oil money spawned "Energy and Me." Fluent in timber propaganda, Project Learning Tree found a special partner in API and gave rise to a new meaning of miseducation. In this learning module, API claims that global warming is an uncertain problem and that if problems were to arise, they would not occur until 80-100 years from now. They let the kids know that the costs of emission reduction would impact both consumers and the economy too greatly. API and PLT had some help with this farce. Jo Cooper of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers helped out. This group has fought California's plans to curb carbon dioxide from cars. Mary Butterworth of the American Coal Foundation also contributed bogus science that defends continued heavy dependence on fossil fuels. Project Learning Tree has been a front for timber corporations for over two decades and now their foray into energy education could be advanced by the deep pockets of the American Petroleum Institute.

Now API has teamed with Scholastic and American Forest Foundation to mislead kids. Would the prestigious National Science Teacher's Association and Gerald Wheeler, their Executive Director, raise the same concerns brought to light by the 1998 debacle exposed by the N.Y. Times? In the February 2003 Association of Oil Pipe Lines website, I read that the National Science Teachers Association was working with the American Petroleum Institute to create the "Science of Energy" a Web site link that contains background information (more fossil fuel propaganda), classroom activities and resources for children grades 9-12. Go to this glitzy site and read the data in the left corner: developed with funding from the American Petroleum Institute. Look at the site more closely: and be dismayed. There is a "photo gallery" site with free downloads available for school projects. What are these images? There are several oil- rig photos, oil barrel pictures, old oil derricks and pipeline construction photos. I kid you not. The lesson on "Running on Oil" has a discussion topic: In 1950, the average car traveled only about 14 miles per gallon (6 kilometers per liter) of gasoline. Today, the average is about 20 miles per gallon (8.5 kilometers per liter), and some cars are twice that efficient. Can you think of ways cars could be made even more efficient? Where is the discussion on gas guzzling sport utility vehicles, the auto and oil industries contempt for raising fuel efficiency efforts and where is the discussion on hybrid cars and fuel cells?

The NSTA, like Scholastic is aiding and abetting the American Petroleum Institutes' quest to lead children astray from asking the tough questions about oil and fossil fuel use. In 2002, the Native Forest Council headed to the National Science Teachers Convention in San Diego to alert the 12,000 plus teachers to the dangers of corporate propaganda masquerading as environmental education. Using facts, the Native Forest Council, the year before in Orlando, Florida put big oil and timber on defensive by presenting clear evidence of industry's "greenwashing." Shortly before the 2002 convention, one time API critic and Executive Director of the NSTA, Gerald Wheeler, sent the Native Forest Council a memo warning them not to criticize (speak the truth about) corporate exhibitors. What caused Wheeler to side with API? Was it the power of this oil group's money or politics? Native Forest Council director, Tim Hermach, quipped, "Big oil and timber interests won out over honesty and kids and their teachers will pay the price."

Parents and teachers need to contact: Richard Robinson Chief Executive Officer of Scholastic at 555 Broadway New York, NY 10012 or email him at: Ask him why they would join forces with API. Tell Scholastic that API is no friend of open discourse on energy use. The biggest environmental education organizations like the North American Association of Environmental Educators should condemn API's bogus materials and demand that Scholastic as well Project Learning Tree not produce biased energy materials with API. Contact Gerald Wheeler at and ask him why he changed his tune about API. Any science teacher who is a member of the NSTA must ask the following question. Is the NSTA well served by providing a platform for corporate propaganda?

The American Petroleum Institute is not a lightweight and will not surrender easily. Emboldened by their wealth and massively deep pockets, they have access to the likes of the Bush Administration. A 2003 EPA Draft Report on the Environment (2003) deleted references to the perils of global warming and replaced it with industry data provide by: the American Petroleum Institute. API is working hard to open public lands like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. API looks to manipulate the thousands of young teachers that will enter teaching this September. Scholastic is now the unwitting accomplice to API's goals of "giving teachers the business."

Children adore Scholastic's trademark characters from Clifford and Barney to Harry Potter and Scooby Doo. Does corporate greed have no limits, no tipping point where moral imperatives circumvent deceit? If we become jaded, knowingly letting our children be violated can we still consider ourselves society's elders? We hear all too often that corporations have one true litmus test: profits. Scholastic has an opportunity to prove that there is another litmus test when it comes to corporate responsibility: being honest with children.

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Albion Monitor August 17, 2004 (

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