California Watch, a project of Center for Investigative Journalism, just broke a story on the plastics industry influencing the State’s Environmental Education Curriculum.
Schools officials have bowed to the pressure of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a lobbying group for the plastics industry, and have edited a new environmental curriculum to include positive messages about plastic shopping bags. The ACC is also the same group that is leading the fight against proposed plastic bag bans throughout the country.
In 2009, Gerald Lieberman, 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." In one instance, the title and some of the textbook language were inserted almost verbatim from letters written by the ACC.
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 revised 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."
The trade group's edit of the new curriculum illustrates a growing concern for special-interest influence over public education.
"The American Chemistry Council obviously got engaged to protect their bottom line," said state Senator Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, author of the 2003 legislation requiring that environmental principles and concepts be taught in the state's public schools.
Lieberman said the state gave him discretion over whether to include editorial suggestions and comments from outside sources. "I had total control, really, about what comments I accepted or didn't accept," he said.
According to Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste:
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.
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