Illinois Coal Mascot
This smiling lump of coal is shaped like Illinois.
via Midwest Energy News

In Illinois, teachers use cute cartoons of anthropomorphic coal to teach kids that our dirtiest fossil fuel is great.

But don’t blame the teachers. Blame coal-industry lobbyists and the state government.

The Illinois Coal Technology Development Assistance Act calls for the promotion of coal in school curricula. A curriculum developed in 2004 to comply with that law blends coal-related lessons into math, geology, and economics classes and art and essay contests. (Jeff Biggers touched on this bizarre situation in a Grist post in 2009.)

Fortunately, there’s now a gust of intellectual fresh air that could help clear Illinois classrooms of some of this nonsense. The state’s Commerce Department, which oversees the coal education program, recently released a 400-page evaluation that recommends an overhaul. Midwest Energy News reports:

[The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s evaluation] calls for retiring the current curriculum and revamping it to “provide high-quality scientific content, a balance of perspectives, and present coal as part of an energy portfolio in national and global contexts.” …

The DCEO evaluation concluded that: “Science content experts, teachers and stakeholders found the (curriculum’s) scientific content to be outdated, biased towards a positive image of coal, light on natural science content, and lacking discussion of potential environmental and social impacts of coal use.”

The evaluators recommended that the curriculum should be expanded to focus more on the impact and pros and cons of coal use and its context “within a U.S. and global energy portfolio which includes alternative energy sources.” The evaluators also said the curriculum used an “outdated” pedagogical approach pushing students to provide the “right” answer rather than fostering critical thinking.

Let’s hope the review spurs some changes to this pro-coal brainwashing campaign.