One day last week, an exuberant first grade class from Davis Street school in New Haven came to visit the barnyard at West Rock Nature Center. With help from their enthusiastic teacher and several parents we all had a great time. The students held chickens and a rabbit and felt the sheep's wool. The worms in the compost bins were a popular attraction. Several children asked questions about the worm's digestive system and its effects on the soil. The kids enjoyed holding worms. (They are first graders, after all.)
We then went down Huff-Puff Hill to the rippling Wintergreen brook which drains the eastern slope of West Rock Ridge. There we were, surrounded by living things. It was a beautiful spring day. We stood on the soil with its worms, composting leaves and billions of other living things underfoot. Birds flew above. Big and little trees grew all around. Minnows and water striders plied the brook. Its relaxing sounds canceled out any remaining city noise. Some students found acorns. Others looked for bird's nests in the trees or animal holes under them, or for worms among the leaves. They had lots of questions. Actually, the parents asked nearly as many questions as the children.
We found watercress growing on a pond I tasted it and then all the kids wanted to, too. They remembered the flavor of black birch twigs from a previous visit, and wanted to find some. When we did, each child took a piece to chew on. As we went back up the hill to meet the bus, they acknowledged that there would be plenty to write about when they got back to school.
Earlier this week, a group of business leaders and state governors got together in New Jersey to push for higher standards for today's students. (Never mind that one of the wealthy co-hosts spent a large part of his career pushing cigarettes and junk food.) Using an Olympics analogy, these corporate CEOs complain that American students score lower in math and science than students in over a dozen other nations. A discussion paper describes hundreds of applicants lining up for posted jobs. But, the paper says, managers have trouble finding even one qualified applicant. Governor Bob Miller of Nevada quipped, "Too often we seem too willing to accept underachieving standards suitable only for a Beavis, a Butthead, or a Bart Simpson. The nation's governors and CEOs are fed up," he says, "with passive acceptance of mediocrity."
Governor Miller doesn't mention that it is America's CEOs who have made the behavior of those aberrant teen-aged cartoon characters so widely visible to America's youth in order to sell more junk food, violent video games, movies and even TV itself to those same children. Now they want the schools to better prepare kids to serve the needs of business, and they'll probably beat up on teachers and administrators until something changes.
We need to beware of wealthy CEOs dictating that we educate our children to enhance their profits.
There is another critical issue, though. If we have hundreds of people who need and want jobs, but only one job for which none of them is qualified, something is definitely wrong. Perhaps we should hear from the millions of people who have been marginalized by big business. Let them set some standards for a society which provides meaningful and satisfying work for the greatest number of people, instead of using the least number of employees to produce the highest profits for the few.
The 500 largest industrial corporations in the world control 25 percent of the productive assets on Earth, yet they employ fewer than one twentieth of one percent of the people on the planet.
Competition in the global economy is mostly of value to large corporations and is damaging to the environment and to a majority of its inhabitants.
Doesn't it make more sense to educate children to enhance their own well-being. Competing in the global marketplace just won't do it. Learning about the beauties of their own communities, and finding answers to questions that interest and excite them about the natural world are much more likely to produce satisfying lives. See it happen at West Rock Nature Center this spring.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1996-1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.