Largest US science teachers organization rejects Gore video ... Why?

t r u t h o u t | Guest Columnist

Would the world's largest science teacher's organization ignore climate change education? (Why did the NSTA say no to free "An Inconvenient Truth" DVDs?)

(26 November 2006) - THE National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has spurned 50,000 free DVDs of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and is squandering a golden opportunity to educate tens of millions of youth in the United States! Why? This 55,000-member organization of teachers and scientists could use Al Gore's film to orchestrate the single most influential educational goal in human history: the awareness and subsequent solving of climate change. There is no denying the escalating list of climate change evidence: from the potential extinction of polar bears and retreating glacial environments to the increase of global temperatures in unison with increased carbon dioxide levels.

Laurie David, a producer of the film "An Inconvenient Truth," helped to broker a "sweet deal" for the NSTA. Sitting in an LA warehouse are 50,000 free DVDs just waiting to be given out to every member of the NSTA. No strings, no catches, just a clear and simple agenda: provide teachers with a spectacular and scientifically acclaimed production to engage millions of students nationwide. And the NSTA says, "No?"

Is the NSTA placing economic expediency over "true science education"; does it fear the alienation of funders such as Exxon and the fossil powerhouse the American Petroleum Institute? Laurie David, who is also the founder of, received an email refusal of the free teaching materials from the NSTA that is ominous and foreboding.

The NSTA wrote that acceptance of the DVDs would place an "unnecessary risk upon the (NSTA) capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." Also in the email, NSTA claimed that it didn't want to offer "political" endorsement of the film and saw "little, if any benefit to NSTA or its members" in accepting the free DVDs. No benefit to teachers? Science teachers across the country are under-funded, overworked and often grab onto free lessons and materials as a matter of "educational survival 101." What I find despicable is that the NSTA is fully aware of that need and, sadly, often aids and abets the "fossil fuel cartels." The NSTA often denies or misleads on climate change and provides teachers with everything from "coal coloring books" to misleading videos such as "Fuel-less: You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel." Simply stated, the NSTA's refusal to distribute Al Gore's film is an unmitigated disaster that will tarnish its reputation as a "broker" of credible science materials, while squandering a prolific moment in educational history: the chance to allow students to become energy pioneers.

I wrote in about this dilemma, and three special sentences come to mind from a July 7, 2005, piece in which I write an open letter to the NSTA executive director about the distribution of corporate-sponsored materials via the NSTA: In a recent NSTA annual report document, Exxon Mobil Foundation President Edward Ahnert explains its "partnership" with the NSTA clearly. "NSTA is such a natural partner for us. No other organization has the ability to reach thousands of teachers who share Exxon's commitment to improving science education." The question that begs to be answered, Mr. Wheeler, is this: can you trust Exxon?

Exxon recognizes the incredible power of distributing its materials to teachers. ExxonMobil makes no apologies for its anti-climate change stance; it funds "misinformation campaigns" like the American Petroleum Institute's (API) 1998 "Science Education Task Force" created to debunk climate change, and publishes ads in newspapers to cast doubt on climate change. And the NSTA has the brazen nerve to state that it expressed concern over taking Al Gore's movie because of "special interests?"

The NSTA's own admittance about refusing the Gore DVD because it would place "unnecessary risk" upon their own capital campaign speaks volumes about the mess we are in and must correct. Big oil and climate despoilers own the airways and advertising sections of magazines with their "half-truths" about climate and continued demand for using coal, oil and gas. Look at Scientific American's first four pages (December 2006). It shamelessly has a Chevron spread that pushes use of oil tar sands and states "Oil, natural gas and coal have been the energy workhorses for the last 100 years, and will continue to play a crucial role in the next 100 years." Or how about with teenage television actors urginging "Learn about coal!" Go to the site and see the preverbal cool teenager, holding a skateboard named Adam, stating that he is "pretty stoked" and that he "learned more about American coal" and, lastly, "thankfully, we can have it all" with coal!

Will 10,000-14,000 teachers return home with more oil and coal propaganda after attending the NSTA national conference March 29-April 1, 2007, in St. Louis? Know this: teachers go to these conferences for ideas and materials. The ongoing joke about attending a NSTA conference is this, "Bring two suitcases: one for your clothes and one for all the freebies!"

I am an environmental science teacher of 26 years and I have a steamer trunk of materials from NSTA's past conferences:

* Project Learning Tree's Energy module, supported by API's Red Cavaney who wants ANWR opened, opposes the Kyoto Treaty, and wants more public land opened to energy exploration.

* Lesson plans, coloring books, free coal samples from the American Coal Foundation - minus any substantive discussion, let alone mention of climate change.

* Lessons and videos from a group that was called the "Greening Earth Society," funded by the Western Fuels Association. The message of the film was firm and academically clear: There is no human-induced climate change.

Our youngest teachers need help to plan and write lesson plans, to engage students in critical, scientific scenarios like climate change and to help those students face those challenges with facts in hand. The NSTA is the logical leader on this front with its prestige and deep pockets. Will the NSTA tacitly sit back and even conspire with the likes of ExxonMobil to fill this void? ExxonMobil and Monsanto and the American Petroleum Institute have little interest in providing science data: instead, they see flooding our schools with their "dubious science" as the last component of a major PR effort to continue profits and damn the consequences.

Climate change is an environmental challenge of epic proportions. Humans have never faced a dilemma that could so radically change the face of the planet: not just ecologically, but economically and culturally. Students, as our youngest citizens, have always been the targets of our civic-minded democracy that is fostered by our public education system in the United States. Our free public education system is bound by law and moral compass to provide students (via their teachers) with a world-class education that bestows the tools of critical thinking and access to factual data. The hope is that those tools grow our democracy and equip our children to be ecologically fluent as well as become civic-minded voters who can read, write and invest in our political system.

It is not too late for Gerald Wheeler and the NSTA to find the courage and educational moral high ground by accepting those 50,000 free DVDs sitting in an LA warehouse. If you are a teacher, student, parent or citizen: please email Gerald Wheeler at and tell him that the special interest that would benefit from those DVDs would be our children! Ask the NSTA via Mr. Wheeler to reconsider their alliances with the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil and Project Learning Tree. How can it be educationally sound to allow big industry at your conferences and receive your "education awards" but not to discuss climate change? Find the emails to your favorite "Big Green organization" (from the Sierra Club to Audubon to Defenders of Wildlife) and ask them: "Why aren't you in the schools giving out sound, ecological data and why aren't you at the NSTA conferences?"

People like Al Gore and Laurie David are providing an invaluable tool that could be used not just in science, but also in health, economics, history and English classes. Learning about the current state of the climate should be akin to learning the ABCs or basic math. "An Inconvenient Truth" has the hard data all American kids need to know and act on. Just as recycling became a national mindset through the lessons taught by teachers and brought home by children, climate change can be solved. Doesn't the world's largest science teachers organization owe this to our children?


*John F. Borowski is a science teacher of 26 years; his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, UTNE Reader, Counterpunch, Commondreams and many other sites. He can be contacted at and urges you to email Gerald Wheeler.

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