Friday, Jul 01, 2016
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GUEST EDITORIAL

Three Rs, plus coal

Anyone who as a child looked forward to ordering new books from a colorful brochure handed out in school, or who eagerly thumbed through the Harry Potter series, has a soft spot for Scholastic Inc., the venerable educational publisher and purveyor of children's titles.

Sad to say, the company has of late abused the trust it built over decades as a beloved presence in U.S. schools.

A division of Scholastic partnered with a coal-industry trade group to produce an energy curriculum for fourth-graders. A poster and related materials extol the virtues of coal but neglect to mention the strip mining that degrades the landscape and removes entire mountaintops, the pollution of air and water associated with coal, or its role in global warming.

The American Coal Foundation posted an online message about its project with Scholastic, which sent the "United States of Energy" package, free and unsolicited, to 66,000 teachers on its mailing list and e-mailed it to 82,000 more.

In this case, schools got what they paid for -- a biased, incomplete, and embarrassing promotional product parading as education. No one knows how many teachers actually used the materials. It's quite possible that the vast majority of them tossed the freebie.

Praising its partnership with the publisher, the coal group noted that Scholastic has formed similar alliances with Coca-Cola and Home Depot. "Four out of five parents know and trust the Scholastic brand," the Web site enthused.

Maybe not so much anymore. In addition to this cynical, mercenary project, Scholastic lent its hand last year to a promotion for SunnyD, a corn syrup-sweetened beverage. Classes that collected 20 SunnyD labels could win books. Teachers were encouraged to hold SunnyD parties and create posters of the labels.

In a statement, Scholastic said it would review its policies, admitting it had not been "vigilant enough" with the coal partnership. It did not concede there was anything wrong with the curriculum or with having private companies pay for glowing "educational" materials in an effort to promote themselves.

The problem, the company said, was how the joint venture looked to the public. Not quite. Though this was hardly a pact with Lord Voldemort, Scholastic has some serious soul-searching to do before it regains a full measure of trust.

-- Los Angeles Times

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