Editor’s Note: The Early Childhood, Youth and Families Subcommittee chaired by Congressman Michael Castle called a hearing for June 27, 2000, to discuss the reauthorization of the EPA’s authority to conduct environmental education activities. Three working days before the hearing, Dr. Sanera was contacted by subcommittee staff to ask if he was available to testify. Even though this was very short notice, Dr. Sanera agreed to testify and to pay his travel expenses from Arizona. Confirmation of his invitation failed to be delivered. The following On Point fact sheet represents information that Dr. Sanera would have provided the subcommittee had he been invited to testify.
The EPA was granted authority by Congress to conduct environmental education programs and issue grants by the National Environmental Education Act of 1990.
The EPA’s authority over environmental education was not renewed by 104th Congress and it expired at the end of FY 1996. The 105th Congress also failed to renew the EPA’s authority to conduct environmental education programs and issue grants. Despite this lack of statutory authority, the EPA has continued the operations of its Office of Environmental Education and issued grants during FY 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000. This fact should disturb those who believe in the rule of law in this country.
Several major studies and an independent national commission document the serious bias that exists in many textbooks and environmental education materials. As one authority observes, much of the environmental curriculum contains “oversimplification and myth, has little historical perspective, is politically oriented and is strongly weighted toward a traditional environmentalist viewpoint, i.e. emphasizing limits to growth, distrust of technology, misinformation concerning waste management, and gloomy (if not doomsday) scenarios.”
What is worse, once students receive a large dose of biased environmental information, which leads them to predetermined conclusions, they are often taught sophisticated political action skills (how to write letters to Congress, how to lobby, how to hold press conferences, etc.) and then urged to engage in political activity. On Earth Day 1998, the Sierra Club took fourth- grade students to downtown Denver where they were given a “lesson” on endangered species. Then the teacher and some of the students mounted the podium before a crowd of reporters to denounce the environmental voting record of US Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Mike Weilbacher, a prominent environmental educator, notes that many environmental activists “see children as tools, or weapons in the environmental war to reach adult decision-makers.” Weilbacher goes on to call this political manipulation of students “obscene.”
The EPA’s Office of Environmental Education has done little or nothing to address the biased information and politicization of children in the classroom. One of the largest sums of money flowing from the EPA goes to a program that has nothing to do with delivering quality environmental education to kids or to improving the knowledge and skills of their teachers. Instead, the money goes to the National Environmental Education Advancement Project (NEEAP) at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, which exists to develop and train political activists in the states. These activists form coalitions that pressure state and local officials to adopt a comprehensive environmental education program requiring that children be trained in political action skills.
Thus, the federal EPA is funding a program which builds political coalitions in the states which lobby state legislators to pass more state mandates requiring the teaching of environmental education, establishing grant programs funded by state moneys, and creating state funded bureaucracies to supervise the implementation of these programs. Nowhere in these programs are parents assured that the environmental education delivered to their children will be objective, unbiased, and include a balanced presentation of controversial environmental issues. On the contrary, these political coalitions have vigorously fought attempts to provide assurances to parents that environmental education will be based on the objective presentation of science taught in a balanced manner and that children will not be politicized. These coalitions insist that political action training must be a required part of any environmental education program.
Anyone interested in the integrity of the federal system, which requires the separation of powers between the state and federal governments, must be repulsed by this heavy-handed federal effort to lobby state officials.
Regardless of the effects of the NEEAP program, the larger issue is this: Should an environmental agency which has a stake in the outcome of environmental policy debates be responsible for environmental education, especially when that environmental education includes a heavy dose of political action training? It would seem only common sense that this situation represents a serious conflict of interest. Does anyone truly expect that the EPA can support a dispassionate, objective, and unbiased educational program which examines both the strengths and weaknesses of the EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air or Water Acts or the Superfund program?
In addition, environmental education, as defined by the EPA and its grantees, includes political action training. Does anyone doubt that the intent of this political action training is to create a cadre of political operatives which, on the whole, support the environmental policies of the EPA? This conflict of interest is not limited to the EPA. Other agencies, such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service, produce and distribute curriculum materials nationwide that include sophisticated political action training.
It is time for Congress to consider an independent review of the EPA’s stewardship over environmental education, a review conducted by prominent scientists and economists who will take an objective look at the content of environmental education materials. Parents need to be confident that their children are receiving the highest quality education about the environment and, when controversial environmental issues are taught, that students receive a diversity of scientific and economic viewpoints so they can critically think about those issues and arrive at their own conclusions. In addition, parents need to know that their children are not being politicized by environmental activists or any special interest group. Propagandizing and politicizing of children is not education; it is educational child abuse and must not be tolerated, let alone encouraged, by the federal government.
Congress should also consider transferring the responsibility for environmental education from the EPA to a neutral, unbiased agency that is committed to science education, such as the National Science Foundation.