Coal Propaganda in the Classroom

(My op-ed published in the Charleston Gazette, May 2, 2013.The last paragraph was cut out by the Gazette)
A teacher presented a unit on coal to her ninth grade classes. She invited guest speakers to present four days of the positive aspects of coal. To offer a different perspective, she asked a fellow teacher if he knew any “tree huggers”, as she put it.
Complying with her request, the second teacher invited two of us “tree huggers” to “balance” the coal industry perspective. We were given only one day compared to the four days of coal industry perspective. Besides the four days of corporate presentations there were also classroom days in which materials and activities from the Coal Association’s CEDAR program were presented to the students.
It is faint praise to say that this is the only time I know of that any alternative perspective to the coal industry has been offered in counties where CEDAR has been allowed in the class room. That said it should be noted that the ninth grade teacher interrupted our presentation with coal industry propaganda that the students had already been exposed to.
CEDAR stands for Coal Education Development and Resource. As stated on their website, “CEDAR’s 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.”
The Coal Association believes that, “Our coal industry is facing the biggest reclamation challenge of our history. And that job is to reclaim the understanding and support of our state and nation’s citizenry.” Reading that I figured that if the reclamation of their reputation is anything like how they reclaim mountains and valleys then we can look for the truth to have its head lopped off and covered with tons of coal waste.
The Coal Association continues, “Many of us in the coal industry believe the solution now, and over the long term, to many of the current issues facing coal can be achieved through better education.” In other words get the coal company spin into classrooms.
Through CEDAR, coal companies are dumping money into this project by, “ providing financial resources and coal education materials for implementation in school curriculum grades K thru 12.” There are many benefits that the coal industry provides. But it is not part of school curriculum to extol the “many benefits” of any industry. Promoting the many benefits of coal qualifies CEDAR as one-sided propaganda, not education.
Does anyone believe that a coal company program could possibly include an objective presentation of the never ending problems with coal mining, especially when their mission is to promote the many benefits of coal?
The killing of over 20,000 West Virginia miners is not a “benefit” the coal companies are likely to present. Nor is the coughing death of Black Lung, or the increased rates of terrible diseases in coal producing counties and the massive and irreversible destruction of our environment. Will Selenium poisoned fish with both eyes on one side of their heads and curved spines be presented as a benefit of coal?
How much of the violent reaction of coal companies to union organization will fall under the heading of the many benefits of coal? Will the trickery of the coal companies, which culminates in retired miners and widows losing their retirement benefits, be included as a benefit of coal?
The Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary wants CEDAR mandatory in every school in the state. That’s the ticket—the coal companies mandating school curriculum.
Education reform should include kicking the coal companies out of our classrooms. Guess why the state board of education has for years looked the other way on this issue of coal propaganda in classrooms.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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