Ecologizing Our Children

Article excerpt


Many years ago, I participated in an outdoor environmental program aimed at providing young students with hands-on experience. At the event, one of the instructors was wearing a T-shirt with a large sketch of a majestic lion with the description, We are all one spirit. Being a rather humorous sort, I thought of teasing the teacher with, Why don't you have a picture of a cockroach on your shirt, instead?

What does such a bold T-shirt have to do with Ecoliterate: How Educators are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett and Zenobia Barlow? Besides providing a wealth of educational perspective and techniques, Ecoliterate also promotes the current academically acceptable spiritual position - that is, we are all one in the eco-spirit.

Ecoliterate touches on various ways student learning can be significantly improved through engaging students in meaningful projects such as cleaning up a local watershed, tending a school garden, taking a field trip to a power station to see where their energy is generated, witnessing ecological destruction firsthand, and investigating the nutritional value of their own school lunches.

It contains some helpful information and lists, such as the connection between good nutrition and learning, and productive professional development strategies. Particularly interesting are views from Aaron Wolf, a professor at Oregon State University, a water-conflicts mediator, whose perspective from his extensive international experience is given at some length. Notably, based on his careful research, he concludes, There was never a war over water in all human history.

The book revolves around the five practices of socially and emotionally engaged ecoliteracy : developing empathy for all forms of life, "embracing sustainability as a community practice " making the invisible visible " anticipating unintended consequence "and"understanding how nature sustains life "Unfortunately, there is very little objective information given in"Ecoliterate" on the final point about understanding nature. My sense from real-world examples and recommendations given in the text is that this is not as important as getting students to be inspired by and act on their emotions.

Unfortunately, such action does not square with the intellectual order that emotions should follow cognition, not the other way around. In the world of environmental science and engineering, practitioners work to discover, as best as possible, the true ecological conditions through examining systems with measurements and sophisticated models. Once objective information is collected, examined and carefully considered, rational plans of action are developed. …