The Washington Post produced two very different takes on Monday in stories about motivating school children to pay attention to threats looming in their future. First, there was an urgent front-page story about the need to educate children about the cataclysmic vision of a world destroyed by global warming – "the atomic bomb of today" – with absolutely no one skeptical of the almost religious claims of hellish destruction in the very near future. One campus activist asked: "What's the use of a college degree when Wall Street is under water?"
Second, in stark contrast, came a story on the front-page of Metro about selling the religious message of Jesus along with free pizza. But this article was stuffed with skeptical students who were offended by the evangelizing – even as they snagged the lunch. "The free food they like...The praying they don’t."
Darragh Johnson’s front-page story was headlined "Climate Change Scenarios Scare, and Motivate Kids." Its beginning underlined just how dramatically young children are being frightened about their world ending around the corner:
The boy has drawn, in his third-grade class, a global warming timeline that is his equivalent of the mushroom cloud.
"That's the Earth now," the 9-year-old says, pointing to a dark shape at the bottom. "And then," he says, tracing the progressively lighter stripes across the page, "it's just starting to fade away."
Alex Hendel of Arlington County is talking about the end of life on our beleaguered planet. Looking up to make sure his mother is following along, he taps the final stripe, which is so sparsely dotted it is almost invisible. "In 20 years," he pronounces, "there's no oxygen." Then, to dramatize the point, he collapses, "dead," to the floor.
For many children and young adults, global warming is the atomic bomb of today. Fears of an environmental crisis are defining their generation in ways that the Depression, World War II, Vietnam and the Cold War's lingering "War Games" etched souls in the 20th century.
Johnson reports that the fear is so dramatic, "psychologists say they're seeing an increasing number of young patients preoccupied by a climactic Armageddon."
The story is stuffed with students touting the earnest attempts to educate people, braying about how "it's our turn to rise to the challenge of our generation and end the climate crisis." Nowhere in the piece is a student who says the teaching on this issue is incorrect or annoying. Nor are these educational attempts described as "liberal." Perhaps the wildest vision comes from Matt Stern of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network:
"I think it's been exponential in growth," says Matt Stern, campus director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, describing the numbers of students fighting global warming's dire predictions: massive sea-level risings, drought, famine, widespread disease.
"If you follow global warming, every prediction is scarier than the prior one. It's really scary stuff. Global warming is this huge uncertainty, and we see it compromising our future.
"So much of going to school," he says, "is getting an education and preparing yourself for the future. But . . . what's the use of a college degree when Wall Street is under water?"
Without the slightest bit of journalistic detachment, the Post reporter added that at one local high school, "Just under 10 teenagers were active last year; 90 have signed up this year, an increase helped by an aggressive marketing campaign and Al Gore's documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth.' Gore is this generation's Bob Dylan; ‘Truth’ is its ‘Blowin' in the Wind.’"
Like true believers, the Post is firmly convinced that the evangelists preaching of global fire and brimstone caused by driving cars and lighting charcoal fires are not only conscientious, but correct. But the tone is dramatically different when the claims aren’t new, but ancient. In Metro, Post reporter Brigid Schulte highlighted the critics in a story headlined "Jesus On The Side: An Alexandria Church Gives Students Pizza Every Week, But the Sermon Served Up With It Bothers Some of Them."
Alexandria’s First Baptist Church offers lunch to nearby students at T.C. Williams High School. Obviously, each student hunting for free food has the option of foregoing the trip off campus for the pizza and the religious message. Schulte quotes Rachel Goldfarb refusing to go and decrying the proselytizing: "They’re trying to brainwash you!" But the students seem intent on taking the free food, and then mocking the provider:
"I'm half-Jewish," one said.
"My dad's an atheist," a second said.
"I'm Hindu," a third said.
"And I'm agnostic," the fourth answered.
The free food they like.
"We're broke," said half-Jewish Chris Stephens.
The praying they don't.
"And we have to sit around listening to Christian rock," Ian Mabley said.
"Yeah, the lyrics are horrible," added Juan Parducci as Mabley broke into a high falsetto, "Gaaaaaaaahd, Gaaaaaaahd, Gaaaaaahd."
After quoting one "devout" student praising the Christian lunches, Schulte wondered: "Still, when the morning announcements at the public school include an invitation to come to Jesus Pizza could that blur the bright line separating church and state?" At least she allows the principal to explain she’s overdoing it: the morning announcement don’t mention Jesus, just an invitation to the First Baptist Church for fellowship. Students can figure that out.
The principal also says he doesn’t recall any parent expressing concern about it. But that’s okay: the Washington Post can try to stir up the parents on its own. "Most parents don’t know about Jesus Pizza," the students told Schulte. "They began to muse what parents and administrators would say if it were a local mosque handing out Mohammed Pizza, say, or a synagogue with Moses Pizza. Or Hare Krishna Pizza."
It’s easy to guess this much: none of that would upset the apple cart at the Washington Post cafeteria. It might even be touted as the ascent of diversity.
Schulte finished by noting this alleged outrage of pizza and proselytizing is closing down almost before the Post-generated outrage can begin. Next year, when the new T.C. Williams cafeteria is complete, students will no longer be able to leave campus for lunch.