Should corporate America - and more specifically the plastics industry - decide what schoolchildren learn about ticklish topics like the environment? Of course not. Efforts to influence or even create curricula will nearly always be a magnet for critics who will denounce any industry-sponsored lesson plans as crass propaganda.
But perhaps that's too simple an answer in an era where anti-corporate views are so readily accepted. I've had a file in my desk drawer for about four years labeled ``anti-plastics propaganda,'' where I collect what I consider egregious examples of negative information about plastics. I've seen brochures printed by state agencies urging consumers to avoid bottles that don't have a No. 1 or No. 2 symbol, and even so-called ``Styrofoam'' containers (still citing the long-ago banished CFC content).
When kids bring this kind of advice from school into a home where the family depends on the plastics industry for a paycheck, the reaction must be enough to
burst a blood vessel.
A natural reaction is to fight back. Fight their fliers with your fliers. And when industry develops attractive, interesting and inexpensive spon-sored educa-tional materials, or SEMs, teachers often happily accept whatever is available.
However, problems surface when industry goes beyond correcting widespread falsehoods.
It can be tough to cobble together a lesson that doesn't sound like a commercial. Think back to when you had a substitute teacher and were stuck watching hokey movies sponsored by the zinc industry. Did you come away with a new respect for zinc? Or did you see through their veiled promotion?
How should the plastics industry combat misinformation, especially when it's peddled by public schools? Get involved:
Offer to participate with local school Earth Day programs.
When you see something you know is wrong, correct it. Most trade groups have plenty of informational ammunition.
If you feel you must create a curriculum, do it right. Work with an impartial educational group to develop an effective, unbiased SEM, and submit it to peer review. Read it with a critical eye, exactly the way your competition, cynical parents and some teachers will study it.
If you don't, and your program ends up as an example of naked corporate promotionalism on the 6 o'clock news, then your effort will have caused more damage than it sought to correct.
Loepp is Plastics News' managing editor.