Free Speech not an exhibit, at NSTA Conference?
by John F. Borowski

The National Science Teachers Convention in San Diego (March 27-30th), will host some of most powerful instruments for providing democracy, knowledge and liberty in this nation: science teachers. But one delivery system to enlighten the stewards of our 55 million children maybe in absentia, it is called free speech. The Native Forest Council’s “Children for an HONEST Education Campaign” fights for open dialogue on environmental issues and constructive criticism to improve educational materials. HONEST ED. protests the distortion of science by certain corporate interests and deplores commercialism in schools, has received a chilling memo from the NSTA’s Executive Director.

“"My reason for writing however, is that NSTA has received complaints fromother exhibitors about the Native Forest Council exhibit and remarks made byyour colleague, Mr. John Borowski. As a result, we want you to be aware ofthe following NSTA exhibit rules: 1) exhibitors are prohibited from makingadverse comments to convention registrants about other exhibitors on ourexhibit floor, and 2) distribution of literature that criticizes otherexhibitor in a negative fashion.

Mind you, despite requests, we have not been told “who” made complaints or what the specific complaints were and on which topics.

The NSTA exhibition hall will be filled with multinational corporations giving away professionally created, teacher friendly free materials on issues ranging from GM foods and the benefits of meat to the magic of timber reforestation and the foolishness of worrying about issues from global warming to the use of more pesticides. Students need to hear all viewpoints it is incumbent that science teachers explain the complexities of environmental issues.

While these corporate interests have the right to distribute their take on environmental concerns, it is naïve to think that certain corporations, some with dubious environmental histories, are not using dubious facts or misleading data. With the chance to sell their message for free in the most respected arena of learning: the classroom.

Why would NSTA limit those who peaceably gather and agree to disagree with certain corporations? Our campaign questions certain “industry science” as not just myths, but overt bias or even downright lies. Sharon Beder has inspired me to take these questions to the NSTA. And to ask teachers, “DO you know all sides of the issue, or just the version you are carrying in that manual you took from an extractive industries table of free curriculum guides, videos and posters?

Beder writes in her book, “Global Spin”: “The ascendancy of the PR industry and the collapse of American participatory democracy are the same phenomenon.” Free speech is not only the foundation of education, but a democracy guided by ecologically fluent citizens with the potential to “see all the sides” of our growing list of environmental challenges.

The likes of Beder, Sheila Harty, Ralph Nader, Alex Molnar, Gary Ruskin and others (all opponents of the flood of corporate sponsored materials in schools), share a similar philosophy that the Native Forest Council’s “HONEST Education Campaign” will bring to San Diego. Pervasive advertising in schools, especially designed in specially crafted educational materials and often, carrying misleading science or even flawed science are immoral. But bypass screening systems in schools and blur the line between education and marketing.

The corporate agenda though transparent is gathering momentum. Their strategy is well defined. Future generations will be ultimate consumers, that environmental concerns are generally exaggerated and corporations are made out to be the villains by “chicken little” environmental organizations.

The most critical piece of this agenda is that social and environmental problems, can be solved by purchasing corporate services and products or that “corporate science” will guide us to a sustainable future. With their “coporate warchests” multinationals have unlimited ability to produce slick ads on television, give free materials to schools and often have unlimited access to political power brokers, they present a formidable foe.

How can you challenge the debate on these subjects, the scope and urgency of environmental issues when the only rock in David’s sack to debate and even challenge Goliath may be taken away at NSTA: free speech and peaceable discussion?

Some people have told me that we will be “drowned” out in San Diego. The corporations have too much money, too much access and too much power.But the question I ask in return is always the same. “ Who will challenge the lies, the same type the tobacco industry still employ?” “Who will help teachers access credible and objective science, data without a financial interest or with slick strings attached?” Who will stand up for the children?

Tim Hermach and I (and the millions of people we speak for) look to the past for our inspiration. Jefferson wrote, “One man with courage is a majority.” Contrary to belief in today’s society, one person can make a difference. We are trying to build a team with courage: of concerned teachers, parents and citizens, who will speak out against the manipulation of children.

Martin Luther King provides that courage to go down to San Diego and say, hey teachers, let’s talk about good environmental education and getting overt commercialism out of our schools. His words are profound:

“ Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic? “Vanity asks the question, “Is it popular?” But, conscience asks the question, “Is it right.” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”

The “Children for an HONEST Education Campaign” and the NFC, knows the time is right, the truth must be discussed and in the end, “restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that can most easily defeat us.”We will carry Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas’ powerful message to San Diego. We will take his thoughts, the best interests of children and teachers and the comfort of the first amendment: free speech, to San Diego. And that is what certain corporate polluters who flood schools with their propaganda fear most.

John F. Borowski 541-929-5224

John Borowski and Tim Hermach of the Native Forest Council and their education program: Children for an HONEST Education Campaign.

Call 541-929-5224 or email to reach John F. Borowski. Call 541-688-2600 or to reach Tim Hermach. Tim Hermach has been fighting to protect our nation’s public lands for over 20 years and John Borowski has been teaching environmental education for over 23 years. And their goals are one in the same: a livable planet for our children, access to honest education materials and an ecologically caring and knowledgeable citizenry.