WASHINGTON - Ford Motor Co. is sending up to 35,000 secondary schools materials for science teachers to use in educating students about energy. The materials also tout the Ford Prodigy concept car as energy-efficient.
Bill Powers, Ford vice president for research, said young people learn best when they are excited, and an automobile provides tangible examples of how energy is transformed, from chemical to mechanical, kinetic and thermal states.
But by sending teaching materials to schools, Ford is stepping into a minefield of modern education: the debate over possible commercialization of the classroom.
'We look at these things with a jaundiced eye, to say the least,' said Kathleen Lyons, spokeswoman for the National Education Association, a professional organization and union for about 2.5 million school employees, most of them classroom teachers.
While educational groups generally applaud corporations for taking steps that ease tight school budgets, the National Education Association encourages its teacher members 'to sort out what is really helpful from what is hype,' Lyons said.
The Ford materials, which include a lesson plan and 15-minute videotape, are laden with scientific information but also are laced with laudatory remarks about the Prodigy hybrid-powered concept car.
The tape has a child 'reporter' doing a scripted interview with Powers and concludes with the child saying, 'I hope I'll be able to drive a Prodigy in the near future.'
'That really is sickening,' said Janet Bass, spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, another union with more than 500,000 classroom instructors among its members. 'We don't want Ford commercials in the classrooms.'
She said teaching materials from companies should be screened by independent experts before they are used in schools.
But Anne Gariano, a science teacher from Dumfries, Va., who attended a Ford-sponsored workshop for Washington-area educators on the materials, said they look fine to her and she won't hesitate to use them.
She said the energy concepts are well presented, and when the references to the Prodigy come up, a teacher can simply point out, 'This is what this company is doing, it's not the only way to solve the problem.'
Ford officials said they prepared their energy lesson with the help of the National Foundation for Energy Education. The foundation says its purpose is to bring corporations and other organizations together with schools to improve educational offerings.
Ford, which formally launched its energy education effort with the Washington workshop March 3, maintained its motives are honorable.
Said Powers: 'Mathematics and science skills are the cornerstones for understanding a wide range of technical issues and essential in developing citizens for the 21st century.'