Opinion

Out-of-state special interest group applies dishonest tactics in Marysville

Democracy certainly cultivates some absurd perspectives. In 2005, during my first term as a school board president, I recall a small group of Marysville parents contacted me to demand that I “immediately segregate Indians from whites within the school district.”

The group claimed that they had irrefutable data to show that mixing native and non-natives caused a decline in learning and discipline in the non-native cohort: they claimed that ‘remedies’, like voucher programs and charter schools, could help ‘solve’ their concerns, so they demanded that I immediately implement their specific plan to segregate cultural groups within our district.

As you can imagine, I decisively declined.

Then this April, 13,000 school district presidents received another deceptive publication, this time from a partisan, self-described ‘think-tank’ in Illinois called the Heartland Institute, filled with junk science and selective propaganda denying the impacts of global warming.

Recognizing the notorious group as one which tried to run a publicity campaign denying the health dangers of cigarette smoke in 2006 [1]., I successfully encouraged a large number of my school board president colleagues in Washington State to discard the publication, and to learn more about the dangers of indiscriminately adopting special-interest materials.

Hence, the ensuing editorial attack that appeared against me in last week’s edition of this newspaper.

Democratically-elected school directors are charged with the important task of reviewing and determining what curriculum materials are appropriate and accurate enough to progressively advance the academic knowledge held by our students. In conjunction with our departmental leads, school administrators must be cogniscent of — and judiciously filter out — propaganda, junk science, and misleading materials spread by special interest groups who continually seek to pollute the minds of our young students.

School districts primarily depend on State chartered boards and commissions to recommend unified curriculums in science, history, and other subject matter. Materials are thoroughly vetted by non-partisan academic boards and subject matter experts; States then develop essential academic learning requirements (EALRs), and school districts adopt these materials as academic benchmarks which formulate the basis of curriculum.

Districts also have the latitude to adopt other materials that supplement these EALRs, and department leads and administrators are responsible to determine which materials are suitable, accurate, current, and beneficial to each district’s students.

Unfortunately, hundreds of sectarian groups like Heartland, pandering white supremacy philosophies, intelligent design, creationism, anti-immigration policies, etc., continually attempt to inject their regressive, extremist perspectives into the public education system.

In Federal Way in early 2007, one such group, led by a ‘creationist’ biblical literalist, managed to convince the district’s board to place a moratorium on classroom screenings of Al Gore’s global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” [2]. Fortunately, public pressure on the board resulted in the moratorium being lifted after just two weeks, but the incident shows why a rational, democratically accountable approach to curriculum selection must be present in the public school system.

Accordingly, school board directors are selected by a democratic process, and if one director’s perspectives run counter to the majority values inherent in any community, the electoral process is in place to remove, or replace, that director.

This democratic system of check-and-balance largely keeps extremist groups like Heartland in check, and in that sense, white supremacists, extremists, anarchist groups, and other special-interest groups, like the Heartland Institute, are unable to effectively sell their special interest agendas to divert progress made in our public education system.

Lack of Credibility

In our modern society, scientific reports and publications rise to credibility when they are logically and comprehensively constructed, introduced through scientific channels, peer-reviewed, constructively critiqued, defended, reconstructed, and finally, when they emerge from this gauntlet, they can legitimately be adopted in the framework of public policy.

Heartland, on the contrary, is known to creates its documents by first adopting extreme right-wing or corporate industry agendas, selectively financing the ‘production’ of subjective data that supports their special interest agendas, and then shrilly demanding that the scientific community pay attention to their ‘science.’

Consequently, Heartland has failed to have any one of its publications ever reach any level of scientific credibility within the international climate change community of government global warming panels and commissions, researchers, climatologists, or universities engaged in the issue. In fact, none of Heartlands papers have ever reached any level of objective, peer-reviewed scientific credibility in any established research forum.

As a result of the group’s inability to make any real impact on the international scientific community, the group, instead, has now adopted a public relations strategy in order to seek followers in the non-scientific realm of popular opinion — this is a tactic commonly employed by groups who lack legitimate, defensible substance in their theories and philosophies.

Accordingly, Heartland’s cartoon-filled global warming skeptic’s handbook (referenced in last week’s editorial, and which has still not been adopted in any one of the 13,500 school districts it was sent to), is filled with ‘oil industry-generated, anti-global warming talking points’ and features the deceptive application of selective science[3] — a deceptive method of selectively incorporating only the data that supports their misguided perspectives. This methodology also explains why none of Heartland’s data continues to be dismissed by global warming experts or international governing bodies like the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [4]...

So when their publications fail to meet the standards required for recognition and draw international criticism, Heartland has redirected their efforts to launch smear campaigns on those individuals who criticize them.

This is a common indicator that such groups lack the capacity of building up their own arguments, and instead focus on reactive attempts to ‘tear down’ their opponents. Credible think tanks, like the Center for American Progress, the Brookings Institute — even the conservative-leaning groups like the Cato and Rand Corporation — would not employ unprofessional and infantile tactics as used by Heartland.

Much of this might be explained by the group’s funding [5].: Heartland’s significant contributors are reported to include ExxonMobil Oil, Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, and radical conservative foundations, and that the group routinely ‘shares’ executives with tobacco and petroleum exploitation companies. The criticism of Heartland’s ‘corporate ownership’ was so profound, in fact, that the group started hiding their funding history from the public, and now refuses to publicly disclose its corporate and foundation donors and contributors.

It certainly makes sense when the 30+ paid employees of Heartland are fighting to protect industries from which they personally profit. In contrast, most of us who recognize global warming’s impacts — particularly on socially and economically depressed and minority coastal populations — are, instead focused on altruistic concerns, and not driven by income or personal profit.

A History of Deception

Heartlands notorious use of deception to shape public policy began in 1998, when the group publicized a petition that allegedly included the names of ‘30,000 scientists’ who denied global warming. The petition, disguised as a scientific research paper by the National Academy of Science, was so misleading that the Academy objected with a media conference, accusing Heartland of “deliberate attempt to mislead scientists and to rally them in an attempt to undermine support for the Kyoto Protocol” [6].

Later, further media investigations discovered that only 39 out of 30,000 listed ‘scientist’ (.001%) signatories actually held a background in climatology[7].. In fact, further scrutiny determined that many people named on the petition where added without their knowledge, and that when they objected, Heartland initially refused to remove their names.[8].

Then once again, in 2007, Maureen Martin (the author of last weeks’ editorial) along with Heartland president Joe Bast launched an absurd campaign that claimed that the dangers of cigarette smoke were overstated, and not really harmful, and actively criticized the work of scientists and research which documented the harm caused by second-hand smoke [9].

Accordingly, in last week’s editorial, Martin, also evidenced a common example of how the Heartland Institute uses deception and false innuendo to mislead the public: her editorial headline, claiming that the Marysville School District’s refusal to adopt Heartland’s misleading global warming curriculum, would endanger our state funding, is patently false.

Kyle Kinoshita, Marysville’s executive director of teaching and learning, confirmed that the decision to decline any private, non-state approved curriculum materials would never endanger our receipt of State Education funding. “We have lost no funding in the last two years due to underperformance in science. Nor is there any statute or legislation that currently mandates this,” says Kinoshita.

Deceptive headlines used by Heartland echo the kind of fear-mongering threats used by the Aryan Nations, the Ku Klux Klan, and other similar extremist groups who hope to push their subversive messages out to the public. The Marysville school district is in no danger of losing any funding simply because we have rejected Heartland’s misleading materials.

Responsibilities of a School Director

The issue at hand ultimately is which curriculum materials are appropriate for use in a public education environment. As a strong advocate for the sciences, I have openly expressed my willingness to welcome a broad variety of accurate, credible data — both supporting or opposed to the reality of any appropriate issue (including global warming) — provided that the material passes the litmus test of legitimacy.

Heartland’s misleading materials — and their aggressive lobbying efforts in Marysville and across the country — has been exposed as a desperate, corporate-funded initiative to oppose the prevailing international scientific community perspectives on global warming.

The conclusion of this matter is that, while world-wide governments, nations, academic institutions, researchers and corporations recognize the potential threat of global warming, particularly to vulnerable minority and third-world coastal communities, gadfly groups like Heartland continue their sinister attempts to divert our attention, while failing to contribute to solutions to these matters.

Their attempts, at worst, waste valuable time for those interested in reaching real solutions, and at best, provide us with vivid examples of how special interest groups manipulate public policy.

Fortunately, I have no doubt that the vast majority of those who read last week’s editorial have the intelligence to see through the false headline, misleading information, and innuendo spread by the special interest, right-wing activists from Heartland.

It ultimately becomes the responsibility of the thinking public — including school board directors nationwide — to simply ignore extremist groups like Heartland, and to recognize that academically reviewed and scientifically supported theories, originating in established universities and research foundations, are the best tools we have to address the global challenges which we, our planet, and our future generation of students, must face.

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