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Reading, Writing and Indoctrination: How the Chemical Industry Infiltrates Schools


"Education is a key route towards improving public perception over the long term."
- 1990 Report to CMA Board of Directors (view entire document)

A certain industry whose products are known to seriously endanger human health sees the tide of opinion turn against it. Concerned that the public is getting too much bad news about the industry in the media, industry executives cynically decide to target an audience whose opinions are still being formed: school children. They plot secretly to disguise their marketing efforts as educational programs.

The tobacco industry, right?

Yes, but not only the tobacco industry. Unknown to most parents, teachers, regulators and the news media, infiltrating schools and filling impressionable minds with propaganda has also become a major tactic of the chemical industry.

In the 1950s and '60s, the chemical industry pursued the admirable, if self-serving, goal of promoting science to future generations of scientists. In 1957, for example, CMA launched a program to sponsor chemistry experiments in junior and senior high schools and mailed informational packets and sample experiments to 50,000 educators. (view entire document)

A 1965 report by the Manufacturing Chemists' Association Education Activities Committee said its objectives were to "inspire students to become scientists in the fields of industry, education and government," and "provide encouragement and materials to aid teachers to not only inspire students to become scientists but also to develop them into competent scientists." (view entire document)

Within a few years, however, inspiration was not enough. In 1972, the industry's Education Activity Committee added a new aim: "to promote through the educational system public understanding of the chemical industry." (view entire document)

The phrase seems innocent enough, but it marks a shift away from helping train future scientists and towards a scheme to shape future public opinion by influencing impressionable children. The chair of the Education Activities Committee was blunt about the industry's motives:

Quoted Text
(view entire document)

Quoted Text
(view entire document)

From that point the industry worked tirelessly to identify and exploit public relations opportunities in schools. Where previously the industry's educational efforts were aimed at college students, in 1972 the Education Activities Committee called for the industry to expand efforts in high schools. Referring to previous efforts on college campuses, the committee chairman notes: "We now see a similar and possibly more effective academic and public relations opportunity through an awards program for high school students." (view entire document)

Two years later, the industry aimed its sights at an even younger audience. The chair of the Education Activities Committee told the Board of Directors:

Quoted Text
(view entire document)

By 1990, the industry had become still bolder in its efforts to infiltrate school curriculums. That year, CMA's Public Outreach Committee introduced its outreach plan for educators and students by saying: "Education is a key route toward improving public perception over the long term." The committee concludes with a request for more than $420,000 annually for outreach to teachers and students - almost four times the largest sum earmarked for any audience except the general public. (view entire document)

In 1996, CMA's Communications Committee gathered to plot new strategies. The recommendations of a working group on education made some startling recommendations: (view entire document)

  • A "survey of young children (6th-8th grade)" to help the industry "define success"
  • "Site school partnerships / Adopt-a-school"
  • "Research what kids watch (pop media) that impacts students . . . via influencers" such as "Internet/games, cartoons/TV shows, sports/music figures," and "textbooks."

For decades, the chemical industry has sponsored awards programs for students and teachers. By 1997, CMA was scheduled to spend $105,000 on awards for "teachers at the junior high and elementary school level." (view entire document) Regardless of the industry's motives for rewarding teachers, it is safe to assume that any teacher who receives an award from CMA will be more willing to consider its views. The industry knows this, and has moved to exploit its access.

In a 1997 memo, the industry's communications strategists recommended spending nearly $300,000 to produce ChemEcology, "a publication covering the health, safety and environmental quality activities of the industry, including how industry products contribute to the quality of life." The proposal boasts that 80,000 teachers and students read ChemEcology every month. (view entire document)



last updated: march.27.2009

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