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Climate of Controversy

Owen Valley High School physics teacher Jay Inman was ticked off when he found out the National Science Teachers Association had refused 50,000 free copies of the movie "An Inconvenient Truth," which chronicles former vice president Al Gore's crusade against global warming.  He wasn't alone. Last week, the organization was bombarded by  complaints from teachers who, like Inman, fervently believed it should have accepted the movies and distributed them to schools. The firestorm started after one of the movie's producers, Laurie David, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post accusing the science teachers association of bowing to special interests -- namely, corporate sponsor ExxonMobil.

But David believes the National Science Teachers Association is unduly influenced by its corporate sponsors. The organization receives about 16 percent of its budget from corporate donors, including about 4 percent from energy companies. And, David contended in her Washington Post article, it's not just the association that's for sale.  "Through textbooks, classroom posters and teacher seminars, the oil industry, the coal industry and other corporate interests are exploiting shortfalls in education funding by using a small slice of their record profits to buy themselves a classroom soapbox," she wrote.

"It's nothing new, really, that educaton at its core involves controversial values on which citizens and communities and various organized interests disagree," said education and political science professor Jeffrey Henig, who coordinates the Politics and Education Program at [Columbia University]'s [Teachers College]. "What is somewhat new is how actively these issues are getting played out in the national political arena as opposed to being segmented into local decisions."

This article appeared in the December 12, 2006 edition of the Herald Times.


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