Politicization Through Fear (Environmental Education): Environmental Education in our Nation’s Schools

Politicization Through Fear (Environmental Education): Environmental Education in our Nation’s Schools

April 12, 1999

Using children to politicize environmental issues is a common tactic of activist environmental groups. Professional environmental educators, however, are more subtle. The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), for instance, claims to support scientifically balanced teaching about the environment. NAAEE even produced guidelines to assure the quality and objectivity of teaching materials. Yet, this organization supports biased materials in our nation’s classrooms, as well as political action at the state level to pass environmental education mandates and the biased education of future teachers in the universities.

Since its founding 29 years ago, Earth Day has emerged in our schools as a celebration of both nature and politics. The Center for Environmental Education Research (CEER), a project of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), publicizes examples of biased education material and offers a balanced alternative.

In recent years, CEER director Michael Sanera, author of Facts not Fear: A Parents Guide to Teaching Children About the Environment (with Jane Shaw), has come across numerous examples of biased environmental education materials. Some of these examples include:

  • The NAAEE’s "Guidelines for Excellence" specifically encourages teachers to train children to become political activists. A book used by many professional environmental educators teaches children how to raise money, hold press conferences, support political candidates, and boycott and picket stores and products.
  • To illustrate the predictions that global warming might cause ice caps to melt and the sea level to rise, one textbook draws a water line above the Statue of Liberty and nearly as high as the World Trade Center towers. The text states that if the polar ice caps melt "the sea level will rise 61 km," – about 37 miles. This would mean that not only New York City would be under water but Mt. Everest at about 6 miles high would be under water. Even the scientists who predict the most catastrophic sea level rise due to global warming are measuring sea level rise in inches not miles – 6 to 40 inches. This "mistake," conscious or not, has endured through three editions of this popular science textbook. It seems that not one science teacher in the nation recognized the mistake and pointed it out to the publisher so it could be corrected. This textbook is being used today throughout the country.
  • One curriculum guide in Arizona suggested that teachers illustrate the population "explosion" by asking first graders to dance around a basketball court. The children were then told that the world is experiencing a population explosion and that we will live in a more crowded world. To experience this, the six year olds were asked to all squeeze into the area of the basketball key and try to dance around.

Michael Sanera is a recognized expert in the area of environmental education and is available for interview by calling Emily McGee, director of media relations, at 202-331-1010, ext. 209 (work) or 703-728-0138 (cell).

CEI, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group founded in 1984, is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.