Cooper introduces new environmental curriculum for high schoolers

Critics call it propaganda

Christine T. Nguyen—North State Journal File
The free environmental curriculum can be downloaded online by teachers

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper and his administration have rolled out an environmental curriculum to be implemented in high school Earth Science and AP Environment classes across the state. “It’s Our Air” aims to educate students about the sources of air pollution, how the state measures pollutants, and the enforcement of state and federal regulations.”The curriculum will build future leaders who are better equipped to participate in the environmental decision-making process critical to our state’s economic competitiveness and public health protection,” said N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Secretary Michael Regan, who joined the Cooper administration in January from the Environmental Defense Fund.The program was modeled after a similar “It’s Our Water” curriculum that has been available to teachers for close to a decade, and was developed in consultation with the Department of Public Instruction and education leaders from across the state, according to DEQ.Teachers can download the curriculum for free, with the program broken into three topic-specific modules that include 9 videos and 15 activities for students.In the first module, students are introduced to the narrator that appears in all nine short videos. “Understanding air can be tricky,” the man says to a room full of teenagers. “In order to understand air and air pollution, we’re going to have visualize and think abstractly; and it’s important, because your very survival depends on it.”Roy Cordato, a professor at NC State and resident scholar at the John Locke Foundation, said while the program states that it includes a variety of viewpoints, it is actually nothing short of propaganda.”I have been through a lot of the material that [DEQ] has for kids, and most of it is heavily slanted,” said Cordato. “When an agency puts out a curriculum, they try to get students to take positions that will advance their size and scope.” Cordato noted that there are hundreds of free curriculums that agencies and organizations push out, and that schools are not required to adopt these.In Module 3, students explore air pollution problems and solutions, with a focus on personal lifestyle changes and government regulations.”It’s pretty clear that in our society we love to use energy at home and on the go — we especially love our cars,” the narrator tells students in a video about driving choices and air pollution. “But all that energy we are using is the primary source of the pollution in our air.”The video goes on to explore electric car options, with a visit to the “Electric Vehicle Challenge” which shows excited student teams from across North Carolina learning and competing to create energy efficient vehicles.”Electric vehicles have no emissions,” a student from Topsail High School says, “so as long as the electricity is produced cleanly, the vehicle is completely clean, and it does not effect the atmosphere.”The narrator adds over a graphic of an electric car plugged into a house connected to a solar farm, “Driving an electric car charged with solar energy, would produce no air pollution emissions.”But Cordato, and many other conservative leaders, say statements like these are both filtered and unrealistic.”We would basically have to pave over the whole state to provide all of our electricity from solar,” said Cordato. “Even then, all of that would need backup conventional generators because you don’t get electricity from solar at night, on cloudy days — maybe an average of five hours a day can come from solar.”Cordato said if you really want to improve air quality through car usage, you need to get older cars off the road — an idea that is briefly touched on in the electric car video.”The idea that you are going to present to kids that this is possible to run even a single automobile off of solar power, is just ridiculous,” he said.Later in Module 3, students are asked to contemplate, “What role does regulation play in improving or maintaining air quality?” Students are taught about the positive impacts of the N.C. Clean Smokestacks Act, linking the legislation to improved health outcomes across the state.However, the study the curriculum cites fails to compare North Carolina outcomes to neighboring states that did not implement similar legislation.Likewise, Cordato points out that while researchers analyzed mortality data from 1983 to 2010 and air quality data from 1993 to 2010, the N.C. Clean Smokestacks Act was not passed until 2003 and not fully implemented until about 2007.”The Clean Smokestacks Act was not even passed for the majority of this study,” said Cordato. “We’re looking at maybe one or two years of impact … and it would only be the case if you saw a precipitous drop in the last few years, not a steady decline in the rate from 1993 to 2010.”But supporters of the curriculum say that students need to learn about their impact on the world around them at an early age.”We often forget that all education is environmental education — by what we include or exclude, we teach the young that they are part of or apart from the natural world,” Dr. David Orr, a professor of environmental studies at Oberlin College, is quoted as saying on the Office of Environmental Education website within DEQ, which helped to develop the curriculum. “An economist for example, who fails to connect our economic life with that of ecosystems and the biosphere has taught an environmental lesson all right, but one that is dead wrong. Our goal as educators ought to be to help students understand their implicatedness in the world and to honor mystery.”