What to believe? Is environmental education critical to our fate or just another political tool? The answer to that question may be very important to the future of humans on this planet. Exactly what should we teach our children, and what should they know about the environment and their relationship to it ?
Currently, battles wage between factions with very different views of environmental education which offer a wide range of answers. The argument now is between those who question whether environmental problems actually exist at all, and those who think that there are serious problems and that something must be done before it's too late.
Meanwhile, as the debate rages, textbook publishers create lots of new environmental education books. After looking at a few of these from Suzanne's fifth-grade classroom, it seems that confusion is the most likely result of their use. One series says "really major changes can only be achieved by governments." Another textbook has the following phrases in the pull out boxes titled, "How Can We Help?" Bear in mind that these are suggestions to ten year old children. They are told they can help:
This advice is disconnected and irrelevant to almost anyone, but consider students in Bridgeport who might prefer to have a safer neighborhood, a gymnasium or a full-time nurse in their school before they tackle global environmental problems. In fact, these books are likely to produce little understanding and no action.
For the faction that wants, above all, to be sure that nothing is done to question the myth that economic and material growth can and should continue indefinitely, this works well. They believe that unfettered growth is good for humans and for the environment, too.
On Earth Day, both The New York Times and National Public Radio chose to prominently feature, and collaborate with, the current campaign to convert environmental education from an evolving field of relevant activism into the handmaiden of economic growth and big business interests.
NPR ran commentary that severely criticized any environmental education that even questions the value of unlimited growth, much less suggests changes in human behavior or consumption patterns.
Earlier in the year, Investors Business Daily ran a guest editorial titled "Is There Hope For Environmental Education?" Its authors claimed that: acid rain causes only minor damage; that forests aren't threatened by logging; that global warming isn't a problem; and that educational materials that state otherwise are misguided and harmful.
So, not only is the environment under attack from the proponents of unlimited economic growth, but also the idea itself that the environment is in trouble and that people need to change their behavior is now questioned. In other words: Keep that car going faster and faster until it inevitably crashes into the brick wall.
Proponents of this view are well-funded and tightly-organized, not the "loose network of critics" suggested by The New York Times. Documentation in The Greenpeace Guide to Anti-Environmental Organizations. reveals that one organization - The Political Economy Research Center - is funded by almost the same group of foundations and trusts that. together with large oil, chemical. and consumer product corporations, supports many of this country's most prominent right wing think tanks and anti-environmental organizations.
Television, the increasingly dominant force in many children's lives, pushes more consumption unrelentingly. Much of the school curriculum also encourages more consumption, with some lip service given to recycling.
This makes it even more imperative to get our children outside so they can appreciate the elegance, simplicity, and beauty of nature's ways. Let them learn, through gardening, farming, and other outdoor experiences, about their relationship to the environment. Let them experience first hand the happiness and fulfillment to be found in working with nature.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.