There are many problems plaguing Appalachia today: underfunded school systems, poverty, drug abuse, negative stereotyping of Appalachia in the media, and today a severe downturn in coal demand within a mono-economy built upon coal extraction.
While many are looking to find alternative means to alleviate these problems by strengthening and diversifying the Appalachian economy, the coal industry is busy at work preparing the next generation of Appalachian coal miners dedicated to fighting the “War on Coal”.
Several years ago, I happened upon the website for the Coal Education Development and Resource of Southern West Virginia, Inc (CEDARS), an organization created and funded by the coal industry. From their website:
“CEDAR (Coal Education Development and Resource of Southern West Virginia, Inc.) is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit corporation which began as a partnership between the coal industry, business community and educators. This partnership was formed through the joint efforts of the Eastern Kentucky CEDAR program, the Pocahontas Coal Association and the West Virginia Coal Association.
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. CEDAR’starget group is grades K-12 in Mingo, Logan, Boone, McDowell, Wyoming and Wayne counties in southern West Virginia.”
The work of the industry isn’t limited to West Virginia either. In Eastern Kentucky, public schools have been regularly visited by the Junior Kentucky Coal Academy, an organization within the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Their website states:
“Delving even younger than the traditional workforce age, the Kentucky Coal Academy has been making strides to educate high school students and to entice them to make a successful career out of mining. With that intent, the Kentucky Junior Coal Academy was formed to extend coal education at the secondary level and to provide career paths for secondary students.”
Photo by the Kentucky Coal Academy
Many Kentuckians are unconsciously funding these projects. Not only do their tax dollars go into the Kentucky Community and Technical College System that runs this program, they are inadvertently funding the coal industry’s educational outreach through a vehicle license plate program.
In Kentucky, Friends of Coal license plates collect $10 per registered vehicle every year. According to the brochure, the money is for a scholarship program in mining careers as well as educating the public about the benefits of coal. There are over 60,000 vehicles registered with Friends of Coal license plates in Kentucky, equating to roughly $600,000 a year going into the coal industry’s coffers from average citizens.
The effectiveness of the the coal industry’s public relations campaign to rally coal miners and their families to their cause, and their profits, has certainly been effective, but their intrusion into public schools is cause for alarm, not just in Appalachia, but the entire nation. If the coal industry is allowed to spend time influencing young minds within the coalfields, what can we expect in classrooms throughout the nation from other industries with similar interests?
Any parent, no matter where they stand on an issue, should be concerned about for-profit corporations using the public education system to push their agenda.