KITIMAT VIEWS: Propaganda and public education

Do schools have a responsibility to say no to sponsored teaching aids, or can they be a lesson in themselves?

While spending a week in Vancouver I indulged in one of my guilty life pleasures: hoarding free commuter and community papers I collect throughout the day.

The prevalence of printed news gives me warm feelings in my heart, as I’m always hearing about the impending doom of printed news products, a doomsday I’ve yet to see realized.

But the butterflies I get at printed news is not what I mean to talk about today.

An article caught my eye in the Vancouver Metro paper, of which their front page story actually included a reference to Kitimat. Go figure.

The story, from their November 13 issue, was about how hundreds of parents, students and teachers have become enraged and signed a petition, complaining to Canadian Geographic that they’ve been sending materials sponsored by the energy industry to schools in the form of educational maps and other materials.

I’ll quote a portion of the article: “So far nine Vancouver schools have requested a copy of the “Canada’s Energy Mix” vinyl floor map and a related trunk of materials, which encourage students to engage in exercises such as mapping out pipeline routes.”

This program, the article goes on, is called Energy IQ, and is paid for by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, “Canada’s most influential oil-and-gas lobbyist.” Two students started the petition, saying propaganda has no place in schools.

I happened to be in Vancouver on some family medical appointments at the time so I found this article particularly interesting given other propaganda in public places I’d seen.

The most recent example I can think of is the tape measures that doctors use to measure my toddler son’s head. In big letters, the measuring item is clearly branded with the Similac brand.

It’s certainly ideal not to mingle branding with health care or education but there’s a benefit to be had if handled with care.

Doctors have never told me my appointment “was brought to you by Similac,” or even drawn attention to the logo on the measure.

Meanwhile in addition to the activities provided in the materials from Canadian Geographic, teachers have an opportunity to have students think critically about the nation’s role in energy.

We shouldn’t have students mapping out pipelines without also asking them if they think pipelines are needed. Explain their dangers, but also explain their importance.

Teachers don’t have to say no to getting educational materials, just as doctors don’t have to say no to measuring tapes. But having teachers apply the materials responsibly and critically is the key.

Cameron Orr