Wackos, weirdos and radicals of all stripes find welcoming and eager ears on American college campuses (some even burrow in and earn tenure); it's almost as if parents, taxpayers and tuition-payers feel obligated to expose impressionable minds to both the best and the worst of ideas, assuming students can tell the difference. But many students can't tell the difference -- which is why activist-turned-"educator" Annie Leonard received a warm reception at last week's appearance at Colorado College.
Leonard's popular video, The Story of Stuff, "details in a simplistic, almost childlike way, the linear journey that stuff takes to get to our homes and the journey it takes when we toss the stuff out," reports The Gazette. But the film's "childlike" style is designed to deceive. It actually delivers a much more adult message, leveling a wide-ranging critique of capitalism, consumerism, industrialism and Americanism, tied-up in a bright green ribbon to lower a viewer's guard.
Leonard once worked for Greenpeace. The group's extremist ethos permeates the film. "Stuff" was bankrolled in part by The Tides Foundation, which gives generously to radical causes. A quick read of the transcript, or viewing of the film, reveals that "Stuff" is much more than just a primer on resource extraction and mass consumption. It's a context-free broadside against the American way of life, full of fear-mongering distortions and political editorializing. Many of the "facts" presented are debatable. The transcript has footnotes, but most lead back to dubious, ideologically-loaded sources.
If The Story of Stuff were confined to YouTube, and it's creator to the college lecture circuit, it couldn't do too much harm. But the film is being shown in many U.S. schools, where captive and unwitting audiences are clueless about its hard-left subtext. The New York Times reported in May that the film is jumping from the Internet into the classroom, with very little resistance. It's something parents and school administrators need to be wary of.
"More than 7,000 schools, churches and others have ordered a DVD version, and hundreds of teachers have written Ms. Leonard to say they have assigned students to view it on the Web. It has also won support from independent groups that advise teachers on curriculum choices. Facing the Future, a curriculum developer for schools in all 50 states, is drafting lesson plans based on the video."
One Montana school district banned the film, following complaints from an alert parent, according to the Times. But the public school establishment seems to be embracing the film as a legitimate teaching tool.
"In January, a school board in Missoula County, Mont., decided that screening the video treaded on academic freedom after a parent complained that its message was anticapitalist. But many educators say the video is a boon to teachers as they struggle to address the gap in what textbooks say about the environment and what science has revealed in recent years.
“Frankly, a lot of the textbooks are awful on the subject of the environment,” said Bill Bigelow, the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools, a quarterly magazine that has promoted “The Story of Stuff” to its subscribers and on its Web site, which reaches about 600,000 educators a month. “The one used out here in Oregon for global studies — it’s required — has only three paragraphs on climate change. So, yes, teachers are looking for alternative resources.”
Environmental education is still a young and variable field, according to Frank Niepold, the climate education coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There are few state or local school mandates on how to teach the subject.
The agency is seeking to change that, but in the interim many teachers are developing their own lesson plans on climate change, taking some elements from established sources like the National Wildlife Federation and others from less conventional ones like “The Story of Stuff.”
Whether endorsed by curriculum committees, or infiltrating our classrooms one DVD at a time, courtesy of teachers who don't recognize it's political overtones, The Story of Stuff is mind pollution of a toxic kind. Parents need to learn whether their kids are seeing it in school. They should demand that schools stop showing it, unless balance, context and counter-arguments are offered in response. It's left-wing indoctrination, not education -- something as out of place in the classroom as Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, which many U.S. schools passed off as a serious lesson in climate science.
Peddling this kind of "stuff" to college students is one thing; imposing it on K-12 kids is quite another.