Eco-Activists Exploiting Kids?

Dec. 20, 2004 5:41 pm

I know how smart kids can be; I have two of my own. But can a six or seven-year-old really understand the intricacies of oil and paper production? Is it appropriate to have first and second graders taking part in protests of major corporations as part of a campaign to "save the rainforests?" Is it okay to have them make posters in class, on school time, using school supplies, then organize field trips to stage those protests during school hours? And if so, who decides what topics are worthy of the kids’ attention, and what topics are not? If a teacher is opposed to abortion, for example, could she have the same class make posters about that, and take a trip to a local clinic and demonstrate (at a legal distance) near the facility?

These questions and more came up after a recent well-publicized event in midtown Manhattan. An environmental activist group called The Rainforest Action Network helped organize a second grade class trip from Southport, Connecticut to the Park Avenue world headquarters of J.P. Morgan Chase, described as the second largest bank in the world. The kids raised money by doing chores around the house, then bought ice pops and sold them at school to raise more cash, donating the money to RAN They also participated in a poster contest, and brought the posters with them. Chaperones lined the kids up in front of the Chase skyscraper, while the assembled media took pictures of the spectacle, and then the kids went inside to seek an audience with the company's CEO.

RAN has organized similar demonstrations in the past, using (some say exploiting) young kids to deliver their message. The group has a website with links to a Classroom Program including "7 Steps for Kids to Take," encouraging letter-writing campaigns to protest corporations RAN says are destroying rainforests by logging the trees, drilling for oil, or using rainforest beef in their products.

Critics say RAN is "brainwashing" the kids, and that its "activist agenda" has no place in the classroom. Steve Milloy of CSR Watch thought it ironic the pint-sized protestors took a bus to the city to be in position to call on corporate bosses to "stop hurting the earth for oil", and made paper signs to protest the harvesting of trees. He also suggests some of the kids might've had a burger for lunch, even though beef is also being battled.

Michael Brune, RAN's executive director, told FOX the kids, "are what makes America great — fighting for their chance at a healthy planet." They certainly seemed to enjoy all the attention, dutifully lining up as instructed while holding their signs, then clowning for the cameras by making faces and dancing on the sidewalk.

But do they really understand what they're demonstrating against? Was this truly their idea, or their teacher's? Did the school board know about it and endorse the event and the curriculum?

We'll report. You decide.

E-mail Rick!

[Ed. note: Click the video tab in the upper right to watch video of Leventhal's reports.]

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Dear Sir,

Good article! To allow second-graders to be fed this environmentalist crap is wrong. At that age there is no way that they can comprehend the issues involved, even less make a rational, informed decision whether they believe what they are being told.

The so-called educators in this group have violated the trust that has been placed with them to give these children the tools with which they can interact with the world. Instead, they have attempted to decide for these children what and how they should think. It seems to be somewhat in contrast to the ideal image of freethinking indepence they would like us all to think they have.

Just a little observation from the backwoods of mid-Maine.

— Roy

Using the children was a terrible thing to do. If a conservative organization did something like this, the papers would be all over it. Great reporting Rick.

Thanks and Merry Christmas,

HI, Rick,

You reported. I decided. That's more of an ethical exchange of information than these kids were given.

This is wrong, and their parents and PTA should be up in arms. What will we have next? First and second graders bussed in to support GLAAD? Maybe boat excursions for Greenpeace?

— Chris (Dallas, TX)

What's wrong with teaching children about their environment at a young age? Children are exposed to a lot more "mature" subjects in their everyday lives. Why not teach them something that will help their future.

— Patricia (Richmond, VA)