Boy Bagged For Taking Eco-Unfriendly Ziploc to School

Parent Marc-Andre Lanciault accuses school of teaching 'propaganda' to children.

February 1, 2011, 5:20 PM

Feb. 2, 2011— -- Isabel Theoret was preparing a sandwich for her 6-year-old son's Kindergarten class one day last week, when he screamed out, "No Mommy! Not a Ziploc!"

The child, who lives with his family in the town of Laval in Quebec, explained that his teacher would exclude him from a contest to win a stuffed teddy bear if he brought an environmentally unfriendly plastic baggie to school.

"Felix explained with lots of emotion and tears in his eyes that there was a simple condition to entering the drawing: Don't use a Ziploc bag in their lunch," his father, Marc-Andre Lanciault wrote on his French-language blog, "Notre Vie" [Our Life].

"Felix reacted as if someone had slaughtered a pig for his ham sandwich," said his father, who is CEO and founder of the technology company INBOX International.

When the father questioned Felix's teacher, she responded, "You know, Mr. Lanciault, it's not very good for the environment," according to a report in Canada's National Post. "We have to take care of our planet and the bags do not decompose well."

The baggie blow-up rippled across blogs in both Canada and the United States, as critics wondered why environmental education had to be so dogmatic, especially among the youngest students.

On his blog, Lanciault accused the school of "propaganda" and wondered if the next move would be to discipline school children who wore clothes made in China.

He acknowledged children need to learn not to waste natural resources and said his wife usually puts sandwiches in Tupperware, but those containers were in the dishwasher.

Lanciault said his son had only learned to fear plastic bags.

When contacted Lanciault through Facebook, he said the family would not comment further because the story had "grown to unexpected proportions."

"Now, we have to return to our lives," he wrote in an e-mail. "We have been flooded with interview requests from everywhere. We did a few, but now it has to stop."

His blog elicited more than 70 responses, many of them chastising the school.

"I am totally against this system of competition," wrote Anne St-Martin. "It is very clear that children do not learn about the environment. All they are going to remember is how to participate in a contest to get a dog, which, at the end of the day, will end up in the garbage."

Another, Maurice, wrote, "The teachers are there to teach our children and not to educate or inculcate values. Education and transmission of values must be done at home by the family."

A mother of three, Chantal, boasted that she felt "no remorse" for using three baggies a day for her three children's lunch -- "one for the sandwich, one for the snack and one for the vegetables."

"We reuse them throughout the week," she wrote. "That's called recycling. No wasted water, no waste of time to find the right container and its lid, and the box lunch is much lighter. ... So enough is enough."

But some sided with the teacher.

"I am fully in agreement with the school," wrote Johannie. "They must learn that if we do not take care of the environment, it will not be there for much longer. How [long] does it take to wash three Tupperware [containers]?"

And others noted that both Ziploc and Tupperware are made of plastic and therefore "the environment is going to suffer the same."

Environmental Education is Controversial

Michael Sanera, co-author of the 1999 book, "Facts Not Fear: Teaching Children About the Environment," said the Canadian incident was not surprising.

"Things haven't changed," he said. "Here we have the same sort of pattern we documented in the book -- teachers are becoming activists and training their kids to be activists. Secondly, they are latching on to environmental dogma and teaching that as science to kids. Who is to say that kids don't wash out the baggies and re-use them? Why is the Ziploc a problem?"

The chemicals involved in paper production are more harmful to the environment than thinner, modern plastics, according to Sanera, who is director of research and local government studies for the libertarian John Locke Foundation.

"The key problem is we've got a teacher that is on a political crusade and thinks it's her responsibility to indoctrinate kids and not teach sound science," Sanera said. "They should teach the science and economics and let the kids decide on their own -- after seeing the pros and cons of both sides of the issue.

Sean S. Miller, director of education for the Earth Day Network said the United States could do much more to train teachers in environmental education.

He, too, was critical of the teacher's approach.

"First and foremost, any school setting should be a place of inclusivity," Miller said. "No matter the subject being taught or the contest being offered, students should always feel welcomed in their school environment. The Laval incident is unfortunate in this regard.

"Environmental education, like nature, is readily accessible to all," he said. "The teachable moment here surrounds creating an accessible learning environment for all, not another debate about plastic bags. Proper environmental education builds such a learning process in the student, school and community."

No formal environmental education programs exist in the youngest grades, but "there's a ton" of informal education, such as visiting zoos, parks and nature programs, according to Miller. But once-a-year visits are not enough.

Environmental education is more popular than ever, he said.

"There has been a flood of interest that we have never seen before in this field," Miller said. "I have been in this position for five years, and the e-mails and phone calls have quadrupled. It's taking off and it's in vogue."

The primary message that teachers should convey to younger students about the environment should not be disciplinary, he said.

"There are three words: It is fun," Miller said. "In this age range there is no need to be talking about climate change. They need to be outside exploring and engaging in nature and having a good time. They get exercise, they learn exciting new things and can spend time with their parents learning new activities."

As for Lanciault, he said he understands the importance of teaching about the environment, but said, "There's a better way than to penalize kids."

"The goal wasn't achieved anyway," he told the Post. "At the end of the day my son doesn't know why he shouldn't use a Ziploc bag. It's not only the bag, it's the whole idea that we're being brainwashed from everywhere. They told us Ziploc bags are bad, so we've stopped thinking about it and just started applying the rule."

ABC's information specialist Melissa Lenderman contributed to this report.