Coal barons at industry retreat plot to indoctrinate children about wonders of coal

Last year an industry front group that distributed a coloring book on the “advantages” of coal: “Let’s Learn About Coal.” TP has the latest industry plans to target American youth —  not counting their pollution, that is (See “If you want smarter kids, shut coal plants“).
WVCA Greenbrier
This past weekend, coal company executives convened for the annual West Virginia Coal Association meeting in White Sulphur Springs, WV. The event, which was closed to the public, was held at the lavish Greenbrier Resort, where an overnight stay can cost upwards of $6,000 (plus tax). One panelist at the meeting, state Senate Finance Chairman Walt Helmick, pointed out the exclusivity of the resort hotel: “I used to drive by the Greenbrier often when I was young, but I never had the money to come in because I’m a former coal miner.”

During the event, over 100 attendees collaborated on issues from hiring industry lobbyists to fighting federal regulations. However, one of the biggest concerns on the minds of coal executives was how to ensure children would be taught an industry-friendly approach to coal issues in the classroom.

During a membership meeting attended by ThinkProgress, attendees took the opportunity to vent about their poor public perception and accused teachers of turning children against them. One coal executive, Jim Bunn, summed up the general sentiment:

BUNN: There’s so much negativity in the classroom, and I really don’t understand that. I can tell you that every industry has negatives throughout. I don’t care what it is. The education system has negatives. We need to get them to understand that we are not Darth Vader, we are good people. We’re just like you in that we come to work every morning.

West Virginia Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin concurred, saying, “I agree with you that those kind of programs could be expanded” because West Virginia children are being unduly influenced by “what they hear on the national news”¦on how bad coal is.” Coal executives and state legislators continued their mutual admiration for changing the state curriculum to be more pro-industry. A coal executive named Joe proposed the idea of a statewide “Coal Day”:

JOE: There’s a West Virginia labor day recognized in public schools. I think something like that could work in the coal context as well. Pick a day of the year that West Virginia public schools would discuss mining, its concept, its history, its contribution to the state of West Virginia. Food for thought.

STATE SENATE ENERGY, INDUSTRY & MINING CHAIRMAN MIKE GREEN: I remember in the 8th grade getting a lot of information about coal, about the history of coal. Is that still being done?

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: Actually, it’s just the opposite. They get taught how bad coal is in our schools.

Some at the meeting weren’t satisfied with just a single day devoted to coal. A coal executive named Michael went further, proposing an entire week of coal-friendly lessons for kids:

MICHAEL: Is there a way for the legislature to have a course ‘natural resource week,’ where coal, natural gas, other topics can be taught? We have national history week in this country, everybody creates a national week of something. Is there a way to create a standards of learning that the legislature would passed that the activists could not keep out of the schools so we could get that education across?”

GREEN: I think we should. I think that’s a great idea. I think we need to check with our colleagues in Virginia and see if we can get that done. I don’t think my colleagues disagree with that, do you? [All shook their heads in agreement.]

The coal industry has indeed made headway in altering West Virginia’s classrooms. In October 2009, the Raleigh County school board approved “a pro-coal curriculum designed by retired teachers and the Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary.” As part of the curriculum, fourth-graders at Stratton Elementary were taken on a field trip to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine where each student was given “a coloring book, compliments of the auxiliary, illustrating how coal is mined and how it is burned for energy.”

One of the groups that has made significant progress enacting a pro-coal curriculum is Friends of Coal, the coal industry group that sponsored the Greenbrier retreat. Its education affiliate, CEDAR (Coal Education Development and Resource of Southern West Virginia, Inc.), is a “partnership between the coal industry, business community and educators.” Its stated mission is “to facilitate the increase of knowledge and understanding of the many benefits the coal industry provides in daily lives by providing financial resources and coal education materials to implement its study in the school curriculum.”

With coal industry executives united in this effort, and state legislators working on their behalf to implement such changes, West Virginia’s revisionist education curriculum may soon put even Texas to shame.

Cross-posted from Think Progress.

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19 Responses to Coal barons at industry retreat plot to indoctrinate children about wonders of coal

  1. Chris Winter says:

    Have a look at this photo of Marsh Fork Elementary School, and read the accompanying story.

    A public campaign to raise awareness of the problem is described in Michael Shnayerson’s Coal River. In November 2009 the Raleigh County Board of Education voted to request the money needed to relocate the school, about $7.5 million, from the West Virginia School Building Authority. Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship said Massey might put up $1.5 million for the project.

    After much struggle, it was announced in April that the money for the new school ($8.6 million as it turned out) had been secured. The funding comes from public and private sources including Massey Energy, the state, and the Annenberg Foundation.

    Construction of the new school is to start next year. So it seems a tiny bit of Big Coal’s perfidy will be corrected.

  2. Bill W says:

    So, if the event wasn’t open to the public, how did Think Progress get in? Just curious.

    It’s heartening to know that WV schoolchildren are currently being taught that coal is bad (assuming they’re being given the right reasons). School is, after all, supposed to be fact-based.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    This kind of manipulation of education was pioneered by Weyerhauser, which distributed school lesson plans saying that clearcuts are good for you. Other industries such as oil and coal have followed suit. It’s really sickening.

  4. Bill Waterhouse says:

    Do the coal executives have a conscience? Do they honestly disbelieve the climate science? Do they not think about the world they are leaving for their grandchildren? Why does our economic system self-select for executives who are either poorly educated, delusional or simply venal?

  5. RedLogix says:

    Why does our economic system self-select for executives who are either poorly educated, delusional or simply venal?

    And of course the fact that our wonderful capitalist system legally requires executives and directors to put their shareholder interests first, second and third.

    The only things constraining them are either the threat of criminal prosecution or adverse public opinion.

  6. Prokaryotes says:

    W.Va. needs to monitor coal slurry, lawmakers told

    Lawmakers noted that the study skipped two areas where residents have complained about slurry. Officials cite pending lawsuits when excluding testing at the communities of Prenter and Rawl.

  7. Prokaryotes says:

    Citizens talk about environmental impact and health effects of mountaintop removal mining

    More publicity, developing alternative energy sources, and changing the climate of government were some of the suggestions raised. Attendees were invited to participate in a mobilization effort to abolish mountaintop removal mining, organized by Appalachia Rising ( ).
    “I think it’s pathetic that we can’t fish out of our streams,” said Sid Moye, Wendy Johnston’s father. “I can’t believe I spent 41 years doing nothing about this,” Johnston concluded.

  8. Prokaryotes says:

    And Today we will learn something shocking

    Methane Prompts Massey Mine Evacuation

  9. TAFL says:

    Friend, let’s give the coal industry a fair chance on their concern for educating the next generation. Consider the possibilities: How about a school field trip to a working mine site? Pupils standing as close as possible to witness a mountain-top being leveled by explosives? Maybe the older schoolkids could work in a mine shaft for a day to see how wonderful it is as part of career day? Another coal technology fun place to show our 3rd graders- a derailed coal train with four miles of coal hoppers. Or the very best yet-go to a coal power plant and wade through the ash pond (or a mountain top slurry dam if this is more convenient), inspect the containment structure and see where the ash will go when the structure fails. This would be oh so educational.

  10. What a blatant piece of anti coal propaganda. The schools though should be open to all arenas of thought and especially about issues or industries which have a direct impact on their lives and livelihoods. Coal pays a great deal of the taxes which build new schools, pay teachers’ salaries and support other educational and extra-curricular activities. Its voice needs to heard in addition to healthy debate on the pros and cons of coal mining’s effect on the environment as well as the social ramifications—I seriously doubt, however, that brain-washing as this article seems to suggest will occur. I also am suspicious that the writer of the article didn’t have the guts to put his or her name on it—real journalistic bravery, eh?

    [JR: Uhh, it takes precisely one click to find the author’s name — so much for that silly charge. unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions from coal represent perhaps the single greatest threat to health and well-being of our children and grandchildren and countless future generations around the world.]

  11. FS says:

    Well, of course there is harm in teaching: “co2 isn’t bad and there is no need to switch to green energy”. But you should not tell the children everything about coal is – and was – bad. Where would you be without coal? Isn’t it important to learn when, with what knowledge given, what was why done and what impact it had? I’d rather not teach my children, the fact coal mining and burning happened was bad, but that it was bad not to change fast when information about the downsides was well known. I would want them to understand why there was no change. What people, what my children, can do to make things like this not happen again and try to change it now.

    If you are just telling the children: “Coal is bad, was ever bad”, that won’t do any good. They would ask: If coal is so bad, why would anyone do it in the first place? Than they will push your argument out of mind and go on. It’s not reasonable to argue that way, not even (or especially not?) to children.

    I for example live i the Ruhr-Area in Germany. Back in the 70’s you could not dry your laundry outside. It would simply get black from the coal dust. I learned a lot about how coal-mining works at primary school (in the 90’s), as this is an important aspect of our recent history and brought us to where we are now. Industrialization without fossils wouldn’t have worked. Anyway, I would seriously call me a “green”. I would go so far and say, compared to public opinion in the U.S., almost every German could be stated as “green”. So I don’t think you should prohibit to teach about coal. You should just not forget to teach the downsides, the reasons and the alternatives… that of course, I was taught in school, too.

    Don’t think children are stupid. If you tell them about the good coal did to the US, they will still listen when you tell them what coal and fossils mean for the future. I think, children should learn to think and take decisions on their own. They should learn to be critical about what someone tells them – even teachers. To ban coal from school curriculum would not be so great an idea, it sounds to me. What I am asking myself is, wasn’t coal industry and industrialization history part of the curriculum in the first place?

    Please, don’t get me wrong: I don’t want the industrials get an other grip for misinforming the next generation, but I think you should simply not fight with the same weapons…

    Maybe the different camps are so unmovable, because there is so much naming and shaming to it. By simply telling the browns “You are stupid. You read the wrong newspaper and watch the wrong TV channels and therefore take the wrong opinion” there will sure be more fighting and less reasonable arguing. So pressed, who might blame them (the misinformed) not to shoot back? Should they eat humble pie and simply say: You are so right! I thank you so much for showing me how naive I’ve been!

    To put that in the right spot: I don’t believe every argument goes that way (“fighting” in means of war, where there are clear opposed sites and change is not really an option). I do believe the fossil lobbies are doing a good job in misinforming the public. But I guess, your playing the ball back to the fossil lobbyists by painting everything as black and blaming them for their puppet show with the people all the while. You should of course go on and make these things public, but maybe on a more neutral way?

    But maybe U.S. citizens react otherwise than Europeans and I am completly wrong. hmm, drifting apart enough, I guess. Anyway, wanted to get that said and hope for some reactions, so I can understand a bit more why it is, that so many people abroad won’t change their mind and open their eyes to facts, instead embrace false facts so they can sleep well, pretending voting brown is good for the future.

  12. FS says:

    PS: Of course we didn’t use such books as the one mentioned abobe in school… but still, i don’t understand why it’s such a heated argument in the U.S. public. I’m scared every time I read comments on newspaper reports online. Here it’s more about the pace of change… not about whether it is necessary.

  13. Raul M. says:

    Thank you a local cafe had humble pie
    and it was good.

  14. Prokaryotes says:

    Joe, i think this post belongs into the related articles section.

    South Dakota legislators tell schools to teach ‘astrological’ explanation for global warming

  15. FS says:

    You’re getting me wrong… I did not want to offend anybody. I am just putting of my mind and asking for some serious response so I might understand a little bit more, why there are so much problems to tell people the obvious. As I said, my guesworking above might be totally stupid and I am getting it all wrong.

  16. Prokaryotes says:

    Imagine a future where you still have mountain tops – which sure kids would love to have and at the same time create the energy to supply demand. The technology is here and it’s clean and profitable. No more health issues, no more mine disasters, no more school children brainwash etc etc etc. There is no other way around – adapt/change – update existing technologies.

  17. Chris Winter says:

    Fletch Barker wrote: “What a blatant piece of anti coal propaganda.”

    Mr. Barker goes on to argue that school children should have the opportunity to hear about the good that comes from coal mining as well. Per the article above, apparently the coal barons are concerned that the curriculum in West Virginia schools is unfairly slanted against their industry.

    I would have thought the true situation was closer to the opposite, as is only natural in a region where coal mining so dominates the economy. Evidently I’m wrong.

    But tell me, Mr. Barker: What motivates this anti-coal curriculum? Is it socialist forces trying to destroy the U.S. economy? Or could it be the truth that mining and burning coal is a net loss for most people and for the environment?

    Consider this bit of anti-coal propaganda: “I used to drive by the Greenbrier often when I was young, but I never had the money to come in because I’m a former coal miner.” That statement came from Walt Helmick. He’s now chairman of the state Senate Finance Committee. It would be interesting to know if he can afford to stay at the Greenbriar now, or if coal money pays his way at retreats like the one described.

    Regardless, very few of West Virginia’s citizens could afford the Greenbriar, and those that can are likely to continue trying to keep it that way. That coal barons are attempting to convince children that maintaining coal barons’ comfortable life is the best thing for them is understandable, but I would not call it honorable.

  18. Chris Winter says:

    Fletch Barker also expresses concern over the anonymity of the author of the ThinkProgress article. (As Joe says, one click reveals his name.)

    Mr. Barker’s name has a URL under it. That link, “”, leads to no server. There is a page at “” but it seems to be the home page for a passworded site. So Mr. Barker’s identity cannot be confirmed that way.

    I then Googled his name. The only Fletch Barkers I was able to find are an Australian Shepherd dog living in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida ( ) and a retired photographer in Easley, South Carolina — unless you count the late Ronnie “Fletch” Barker, former inmate of Slade Prison.

    Your move, Mr. Barker.

  19. Bill Waterhouse says:

    There is a Fletcher Barker on Facebook, but I don’t think he is writing the posts here because he apparently is a Siamese cat. Most cats I know are too smart to have made Fletch Barker’s posts here. Who are you Fletch?