John Borowski | World's Largest Science Teachers' Organization Awash in Denials (2)

Tuesday, 12 December 2006 21:01 by: Anonymous

    World's Largest Science Teachers' Organization Awash in Denials
    By John Borowski
    t r u t h o u t | Guest Contributor

    Wednesday 13 December 2006

Refusal to distribute "An Inconvenient Truth" leaves world's largest science teacher's organization awash in denials and cover-ups.

    The refusal by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) to distribute Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" has ignited a firestorm of controversy and an avalanche of inquiries that the NSTA continues to mishandle. Commondreams.org first ran my piece "Would the World's Largest Science Teacher's Organization Ignore Climate Change Education?" on November 27, 2006, the day after Laurie David penned an editorial in the Washington Post on the same issue. Simply go to the NSTA's own discussion board and see the revulsion expressed by the NSTA's own paying members [1]:

  • It seems there's a second inconvenient truth, that the NSTA can be bought.
  • It's one thing to admit the organization needs money, another to take it from companies who have historically gone out of their way to sabotage the unpleasant scientific truth surrounding the global warming issue, and their involvement in it.
  • As an aspiring Biology/Earth Science teacher (will be student teaching within the year), I was deeply saddened to hear the NSTA refused free copies of an Inconvenient Truth DVDs.
  • The hypocrisy makes me sad and ill.

    The hypocrisy of the NSTA is a stark and bold reaffirmation of the incredible stranglehold corporate interests have, not only in the media, the Congress and so many walks of life: they are now trying to manufacture consent amongst our youngest citizens in school.

    I have received hundreds of emails from outraged educators and parents (many of them including emails they have sent to NSTA executive director Gerald Wheeler) and requests from radio and television stations for information. Since 1998, when I attended my first NSTA convention in Las Vegas, I and many others in the environmental education arena have been sickened by the corporate invasion of public schools. We find even more curious the reluctance of big environmental organizations to challenge and debunk educational propaganda produced by big oil, coal and timber corporations.

    When caught red-handed: delete critical evidence or just lie?

    Bombarded by emails, Wheeler went on the offensive, posting rebuttals to the accusation that the NSTA was a "corporate hack." His statements can be seen on the NSTA web site on November 30 and again on December 7, 2006. Instead of taking the high road - accepting the Gore DVDs, promising to sever the NSTA's links with Exxon, the American Petroleum Institute (API), Shell, ConocoPhillips and Project Learning Tree (mainly a timber propaganda conduit also involved with API) - Wheeler dug a deeper hole with misstatements and some computer wizardry. Look at the statements and compare them to the reality:

  • Wheeler states that the NSTA no longer partners with API and that "over the past week, we have searched all of the NSTA records and sources and we have found no evidence of NSTA having a role in the development or mass distribution of the video ["Fuel-less: You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel"]." He further says that the NSTA's relationship with API ended some 5 years ago. Sitting on my desk is a copy of the "Pipeline Community," from the American Petroleum Institute, dated February 2003. It states, "With the National Science Teachers Association, API helped create the 'Science of Energy,' a Web site." An API educational material's web site from July 1, 2000, discusses a video for middle school students that illustrates with pop music and dance the often-invisible role petroleum products play in our everyday lives: "'Fuel-less: You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel' is being distributed by the National Science Teachers Association. One per classroom." Who is lying here?
  • If you don't like the data, delete it from your site. Sitting on my table as I pen this piece is a group of photographs that I found on the NSTA web site [2]. The date of the document is August 10, 2004, and the photographs relate to "research on energy." What are these photographs of? Pipeline construction, oil pipes, drilling rigs, oil barrels, oil refineries, oil tankers and offshore oil rigs. Why are they no longer there? Research by Laurie David also shows the shutdown of sites on the NSTA that included "Running on Oil." And even the API's web page that included a glowing reference to the API's relationship to the NSTA is now gone! If anyone wants to see the hard copies of these documents, I will gladly share!

    Another colossal misstatement has been the contention by Mr. Wheeler that the NSTA stands by a 2001 NSTA policy that prohibits endorsements, and has decided not to mass-distribute the Gore DVD to members without their consent or request, because it would constitute an endorsement. Really? In 2003, Gerald Wheeler acted as an executive producer on a ten-part video funded by ConocoPhillips, and 20,000 of those copies were shipped out! The American Petroleum Institute heralded the release with a statement on their web site. "'The Search for Solutions' [is a] multiple winner of the Telly Award for outstanding programming ... The videos are designed to capture the attention and imagination of junior high and high school students."

    I downloaded the "teaching materials" and saw a potpourri of fossil fuel endorsements. My favorite is a 3-page teaching sheet on "Finding Oil" that ends with "Let the drilling begin." ConocoPhillips is a powerful member of the API powerhouse of fossil fuel interests and is very determined to open more federal waters to oil drilling. Wheeler damns his own defense of NSTA's revolving policies in an April 22, 2003, news release: "The partnership between the National Science Teachers Association and ConocoPhillips has produced a very valuable tool for our nation's science teachers," said Gerald Wheeler, NSTA Executive Director. "'The Search for Solutions' video series brings their students vivid, real-life examples of the nature of science and technology, a much-needed resource." And ConocoPhillips received the ultimate endorsement for their Trojan horse foray into our schools: with compliments and help from the biggest science teachers' organization!

    Why aren't Project Learning Tree and their American Petroleum Institute-funded energy module getting the once-over? Or is it just another NSTA omission?

    Lost in this NSTA debacle is a glaring example of how industry can exploit even the members of the environmental education community to give tacit approval to industry bias in education. Project Learning Tree (PLT) is often regarded as the "most-used ecological curriculum" in the United States! I have written several articles about PLT and their omission-laced curriculum. Funded by the worst clear-cutters on earth (from Weyerhaeuser to Sierra Pacific), PLT provides forest ecology data - minus credible discussion of clear cutting, mass forest fragmentation, short rotation forests and converting wild forests in to sterile tree farms or monocultures. Just last week, research coming out of China revealed the "carbon sink" value of old growth forests and their old growth soils that encompass their root systems. Forests are essential to fighting global warming.

    Just a few years ago, API and PLT teamed up to produce "Energy and Me by Bill B!" This sugarcoated, hip-hop module contains CD classics like "Energy y Yo." It tries to convince school children of the vast need for oil products and that there is oil for decades to come. And who funded this? ExxonMobil, Chevron and API. I have seen this energy packet at NSTA conferences. More interesting, I purchased a copy of the module last week at Oregon State University. Apparently, PLT has coordinators in Oregon State, which also has access to the school of science and math education, the same place I received my Masters of Science Education. Talk about industry access to educators - and young, impressionable and content-needy educators at that! Many environmental educators, especially in outdoor education centers, endorse Project Learning Tree. Why? They are good people trying to teach students and often are unaware of the bias and omissions in curriculum that favor the corporations that finance these "needed curriculum materials."

    If corporations are providing dishonest curriculum and seducing the NSTA, what are the big greens doing about it?

    For years I have emailed and written the big established environmental groups and asked them to take a sliver of their budgets and attend the NSTA conferences. I asked them to help fund a "Children for an Honest Education Campaign," whereby funds could establish a three-pronged approach: one, monthly updates on corporate-sponsored curriculum and strategies; two, a strategy for disseminating honest lesson plans/environmental education updates; and three, a continuing presence at major conferences across the country. I continued to write articles in publications like the New York Times and UTNE Reader and for web sites like Commondreams.org and numerous others, exposing this growing threat in our classrooms, with little response from the big national green groups. Not a single big green organization like the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club or National Wildlife Federation stepped forward. Instead, a small grassroots organization fighting for national forests and other public lands nationwide, the Native Forest Council ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ), stepped up. They provided nearly $10,000 (I believe their annual budget is $200,000) to attend the NSTA conference in Orlando, Florida, in spring 2000. Nestled in the "belly of the beast," our small 10' by 10' booth was dwarfed by the enormous displays by big oil, coal and timber interests. Some corporate interests had three booth spaces, with forklifts arriving every morning to unload videos, posters, pencils and curriculum. We gave out posters, curriculum ideas and the scientific truth about forests and climate change. We followed up with a $30,000 trip to San Diego in 2002 for the big NSTA conference with a double 10' by 20' exhibit booth.

    Apparently, we were starting to make people realize that big timber and oil were bamboozling teachers and their students, because we received a chilling letter before arriving to that March conference. Who wrote it the letter and what did it say? It was from none other than Gerald Wheeler:

My reason for writing, however, is that NSTA has received complaints from other exhibitors about the Native Forest Council's exhibit and remarks made by your colleague, Mr. John Borowski. As a result, we want you to be aware of the following NSTA exhibit rules: 1) exhibitors are prohibited from making adverse comments to convention registrants about other exhibitors on our exhibit floor, and 2) distribution of literature that criticizes other exhibitors in a negative fashion.

    We were never told who made the complaints and were never shown any evidence of complaint letters or emails from individuals or corporations. It seems that Mr. Wheeler doesn't like free speech, or an open discussion about corporate interests corrupting our children's education, or those who question the ethics and morals of letting corporate powers peddle deliberate lies and distortions. Big green groups: where are you? Why won't you combat the stealing of our children's scientific education? Will you help fund a trip to St. Louis this next year (March 28th-April 1st) for the next regional NSTA conference? The Native Forest Council and I want to go: but we cannot do it without help. Who will organize the media events, politely yet firmly challenging the corporate entities who will be in St. Louis with their pre-packaged "pseudo-science?" Who will give out DVDs like "An Inconvenient Truth" and start a long-term relationship with our nation's teachers, who are starving for honest and affordable educational materials? Global warming and climate change will not end with the handing out of one DVD.

    Will this NSTA fuss just blow over?

    Let me thank CommonDreams, Truthout and the Smirking Chimp for providing a venue for allowing citizens to read about this issue, an issue that many big newspapers and media outlets refuse to touch. My heart is soaring from the cascade of emails that are still coming across my computer screen. These emails demonstrate that not all citizens are "comfortably numb." Instead, they show that people care about their teaching profession and the teaching of proper ecological science, and they are sickened by the corporate manipulation of curriculum and children. The producer of "An Inconvenient Truth," Laurie David, has helped to make of this issue a national buzz.

    Please email NSTA's executive director Gerald Wheeler ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) [3] and tell him to cut, once and for all, NSTA's ties with climate despoilers like Exxon, ConocoPhillips and Shell Oil. Ask him to provide "An Inconvenient Truth" to every member of the NSTA or face educators' dropping their membership to the NSTA. State that if the timber industry's Project Learning Tree materials are endorsed by the NSTA, they should be required to give the "whole picture" regarding logging, energy or other forest issues. If you have a favorite big green group, ask them to attend the next NSTA conference and produce the decent and honest educational science materials our teachers need. There are many great biology and chemistry teachers in our schools, yet they receive little training on ecological concepts and even less time to construct their own lessons. Big greens, why not help fill that void? Why abandon this important playing field to industry interests?

    Climate change, along with issues like species loss, deforestation and other critical ecological issues can be solved. At the very least, solved to the point where we learn how to not keep making the climate crisis worse. Solved by informed, educated citizens who have received all the facts. I showed "An Inconvenient Truth" last week to my classes. The kids were excited, asking question after question, including, "Why aren't we told more about this issue?" The science is breathtaking and shocking. It is up to caring and well-read educators, parents and citizens to fill in the other pieces of the puzzle: who is responsible for climate change; why do fossil fuel interests still receive immense subsidies; why isn't the United States investing in high-speed rail/mass transit systems that could employ millions and create markets for high tech-research in American markets? Where is the blueprint for a hydrogen economy, energy conservation, and energy-friendly community development?

    While we bash the Bush administration, why didn't the Clinton/Gore team make greater change? Why didn't Al Gore run his 2000 bid for president on this same topic, on which he is now so impassioned? It is fair to criticize Democrats as well as Republicans on this issue, because a despoiled planet plays no favorites in regard to political affiliation. Congresswoman Pelosi last week spoke of "improving" the Kyoto Protocol by making it worse for the climate. In the many articles in which she was quoted, she "improved" Kyoto by relaxing it, by aiming only for 1990 levels of pollution, rather than 10 percent below the 1990 levels, and instead of by 2012, making it not take effect until 8 years later, in 2020. Is this progress, or political expediency run amok? Climate education must include a lesson in civics: citizens must demand that which is good, not politic.

    We need to move from an honest discussion or debate on climate change to real action if we expect the human race to survive on this ever more depleted, trashed and polluted Earth. Ten, maybe fifteen years down the road, this NSTA chapter in our American educational history may actually be viewed as a pivotal time in the battle to right climate change. Corporate interests and their possibly-unwitting allies in the world of education will not be able to go back and undo the damage by pointing to deleted documents on a web site or past profits that benefited very few as climate change undid a civilization.

    And to a student named Michael who watched "An Inconvenient Truth" and asked a most startling question, "Mr. B., in your heart, do you really believe that we will solve climate change?" The answer is a resounding "Yes!"

    Notes:
[1] http://www.nsta.org/main/forum/showthread.php?t=1867
[2] This page has been removed from the web site since publication.
[3] This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


    John F. Borowski is a science teacher of 26 years. His pieces have appeared in the New York Times and the UTNE Reader, on Counterpunch, Truthout, Smirking Chimp, CommonDreams and many other web sites. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
Last modified on Monday, 21 April 2008 15:44