Did the Plastic Industry Rewrite California’s Textbooks?

Did the Plastic Industry Rewrite California's Textbooks?A California Watch report published Friday found evidence that the California state EPA allowed the American Chemistry Council to have undue influence over the drafting of the state’s new environmental curriculum. According to California Watch investigative reporter Susanna Rust, a private consultant hired by California school officials in 2009 inserted a new section in the teacher’s edition of the state’s 11th-grade Mass Production, Marketing and Consumption in the Roaring Twenties textbook entitled “The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags,” which includes passages lifted verbatim from letters the American Chemistry Council sent during the public comment phase of the curriculum’s drafting.
The consultant also added a workbook question asking students to list the advantages of plastic bags. The correct answer listed in the teacher’s edition is: “Plastic shopping bags are very convenient to use. They take less energy to manufacture than paper bags, cost less to transport, and can be reused.” In fact, there’s no clear convenience benefit to plastic bags versus paper or reusable bags, reusable bags can be re-used many times more than plastic bags, and the energy question is still very much up for debate.
Following passage of a 2003 law requiring California’s public schools to include environmental lessons in their curricula, the state of California spent seven years developing the new curriculum, including several rounds of public comment. The curriculum is now being tested in 19 of the state’s school districts, with 400 more districts signing on to teach the curriculum in the coming school year. The American Chemistry Council denies any undue influence over the drafting of the curriculum, claiming its comments were submitted during the public comment phase, along with several other organizations.

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Amy Westervelt is a freelance journalist based in Oakland, Calif. She writes about tech, health, and the environment for a variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Forbes. In 200 ...read more

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