Why We Need Humane Education: The Business of Brainwashing Students

Last week the blogosphere and some mainstream media were abuzz with the story that education resource power-player Scholastic was being inundated with calls to revoke "The United States of Energy," a curriculum for 4th graders that it had created at the request of, and funded by, the American Coal Foundation. The curriculum was mailed to tens of thousands of teachers, and more than 80,000 teachers were sent a link to the curriculum. What’s of concern with the curriculum? On the surface, it seems to explore different types of energy. But, as Bill Bigelow wrote in a recent blog post about the curriculum:

“Sure enough, the lessons are full of “advantages,” but there is not the slightest hint—none—that coal might have any problems. Nothing about the mountains being scraped away throughout Appalachia, or the resulting flooding that has destroyed people’s homes, or how communities’ water supplies have been poisoned. Nothing about the busting of unions or the exploitation of nonunion miners. Nothing about the billions of gallons of toxic waste created by washing coal and, of course, by burning it. Nothing about the poisonous coal dust that blows off trains and barges as the coal travels from mine to coal-fired plant. Nothing about the toxins released when coal is burned—like sulfur dioxide, mercury, and arsenic—which kill many thousands of people a year, according to the American Lung Association.”

And this is no exception. As IHE President, Zoe Weil, says, “Corporations are literally taking over classrooms.” From curriculum created by industry and special interest groups, to fast food (and posters about junk food) in the cafeterias, to Channel One, to ads on buses, lockers and textbooks, to corporate-sponsored special contests and incentives, students are hard-pressed to find any aspect of their schooling that isn’t tagged or touched by industries trying to subtly (or not so subtly) influence their choices, beliefs, and buying habits.

Helping students think critically about these important issues, inspiring them to find creative solutions, and teaching them to identify and analyze bias, hidden messages, marketing, and other techniques designed to sway them are essential aspects of humane education.

As Zoe says, “Without the ability to think critically, to learn honest environmental or humane lessons, or to be free from a constant barrage of product ‘need-creation,’ young people will not be able to make informed, compassionate, sustainable, or humane choices. They, like all of us, will simply be too brainwashed to consider any alternative ideas -- if those ideas are even available to them.”

To help your students get started in thinking critically about advertising, industry, and other influencers, check out our free activities such as Analyzing Advertising, Be a C.R.I.T.I.C., Not So Fair and Balanced, and We Have You Surrounded.

~ Marsha

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