Coal-based learning

The American Coal Foundation has designed a coal-based elementary school curriculum, reports In These Times.

(It) suggests that students learn about the costs and benefits of coal mining by using toothpicks and paper clips to “mine” chocolate chips out of cookies. They also go about “reclaiming” the “land” damaged in the process by tracing the cookies’ outline on graph paper. Costs are to be calculated by the amount of time spent per chip and the expanse of graph paper that needs to be reclaimed.

. . . The stranger-than-fiction curriculum prods students to write inspiring stories about mining company towns and teaches how to make “coal flowers”—lumps of coal adorned with paper and fabric held together by congealing ammonia, salt and “laundry bluing,” which the curriculum helpfully advises can be purchased through women’s magazines.

Via This Week in Education.

About Joanne


  1. deirdremundy says:

    Hey, is it REALLY any weirder than the ‘green’ curriculums floating around?

  2. gee, i’m surprised it didn’t just recommend you ask your mother for some laundry bluing.

    if this curriculum has coloring pages of ladies in aprons bringing cookies to coal miners and a word find, i am so in!

  3. This is hilarious — and typical of stuff I see all the time — “free lesson plans!” from marketers. What they don’t try to get us to sell to teens, let me tell ya.

    Bluing is available in any grocery store, btw. I use it all the time on my horse’s white parts to get the manure and grass stains out. Works great. I’ve never used it on actual clothing or anything, though.

  4. Cynthia says:

    The cookie mining activity has been out for several years. My students really enjoy the challenge. Eating the rest of the cookies isn’t too bad either 😉

  5. giggle

  6. The ammonia, salt and blueing on the coal will cause it to grow crystals – we did this a million years ago using charcoal.

  7. I assume the jocularity is due to the obvious, and hilarious, naiveté of the American Coal Foundation in thinking that teachers wouldn’t see through to the self-serving nature of an agenda which lacks the inherent nobility so important to the self-important?

    The giggling can’t be due to the crudity of the attempt to indoctrinate since indoctrination rarely rises above sis-boom-bah obviousness and certainly doesn’t among the enviro-elite for whom lurid predictions of imminent catastrophe and heavy-handed manipulations of emotions are stock in trade.

    Ah, it’s the linked article that indicates the proper response although in an irony worthy of the public education system we have this neat observation:

    Explicitly in the curriculum and implicitly in the testimony and news reports included in the book are cost-benefit analyses.

    And implicit in the article is the assumption that conclusion may precede cost-benefit analysis for certain issues and is inappropriate for certain other issues.

  8. When I was in 4th grade, back in the 80’s, we had a curriculum from the California Raisins (this was when those ads with the claymation raisins were the big thing). The math included lining up the raisins into grids to do basic multiplication problems (which I had done years earlier at my previous school–4th grade was my first year at a progressive-type school, incidentally…) and “nutrition” which amounted to “good” foods and “bad” foods. This latter part in particular drove my mom up the wall, since she’d studied nutrition in college. The teacher wasn’t amused when I shared how dentists consider raisins to be one of the worst foods for your teeth. Then I did a project emphasizing that there aren’t really “good” and “bad” foods, and what matters is eating a balanced diet. I don’t think the teacher was impressed that I didn’t take the party line.

    Anyhow, raisins aren’t exactly a hot-button issue, then or now, but any teacher who thinks that the representatives of a particular food product would be giving unbiased information on nutrition is, well, probably going to think that the American Coal Foundation or Greenpeace or whatever (depending what fits into their worldview) is a reliable source.

  9. Allen – in my case the jocularity was caused by the description of surreal suggested projects like:

    students learn about the costs and benefits of coal mining by using toothpicks and paper clips to “mine” chocolate chips out of cookies

    It sounds like something out of Monty Python.

    Or perhaps I just have a weird sense of humour.

  10. Sure it’s silly but the Coal Foundation, like just about everyone with an ax to grind it seems, sees a benefit in catching ’em young and training ’em right. In this case the obvious lesson is implied in the association of coal and chocolate chip cookies – they’s both tasty!

    It’s too crude an approach for adults who are more likely to respond positively to proselytizing that appeals to their egos and not their tongues.

    That’s what really highlights the naiveté of the Coal Foundation. If the Coal Foundation were as sophisticated as its ideological rivals they’d pitch their appeal to the adults who make the policy decisions via the materials they propose to put in front of the kids.

  11. Tracy W says:

    Sure it’s silly but the Coal Foundation, like just about everyone with an ax to grind it seems, sees a benefit in catching ‘em young and training ‘em right.

    Luckily for those of us who care about freedom, training ’em right appears to very hard to do effectively. Look at the problems with abstinence sex education, or drug education, or environmental education:

    The results of the analysis indicated a very small overall effect of the interventions in abstinent behavior.

    Scientific evaluation studies have consistently shown that DARE is ineffective in reducing the use of alcohol and drugs and is sometimes even counterproductive — worse than doing nothing.

    Interestingly, participating in scouts or other forms of environmental education programs had no effect on adult attitudes toward the environment.

  12. Be that as it may, it doesn’t prevent interest groups from trying and in trying dilute what ought to be the primary purpose of the public education but, due to the obvious benefits of “catching ’em young and training ’em right”, never has been.