I remember when my children were small and first attending school in the mid-to late seventies. Environmental activism and awareness was just beginning to make headway into the curriculum, and teachers had begun to find ways to connect children with the environment, teaching local and global responsibility.
Part of the task in teaching environmentalism, was to help children understand the natural world and their place in it. Coming out of the sixties, many of us understood on a visceral level the oneness of all things. We knew we were only a tiny part of creation, that the universe coursed through us, and that we could use and direct mind energy into creating a world that was safe, sane, and aware.
In good part, studies concentrated on how everything on earth was interconnected—water, rain and snow, creeks and rivers, plants and the sun, our relationship to wildlife. Children were taught the word “pollution”, and showed examples of what we race of humans had done to damage the environment, what we continued to do, and how we needed to change our activities. Man, our children learned, was only one small part of creation, and our existence was intimately bound to all other life.
Part of the new environmental programs were designed to foster awareness of respect for animals. The list of disappearing species was growing larger, and the kids each studied different marine mammals as a major project. They were also taught to make certain that the earth was a cleaner place (not a single piece of trash lay on the playing fields). And once a year, for many years, the children went Tripping with Terwilliger. Packing children and lunches into volunteer parent cars, we left Oakland with comfortable walking shoes, hats, and sunscreen, and made our way to the Marin County tide pools.
Mrs. Terwilliger brought a sense of excitement to the children, teaching them through their senses how to perceive the world. No longer did the kids have only the electronic stimulation of a television, or the pages of animals in a book, but they ran and touched and sniffed the salt air, watching the tide pools fill, the sea anemones sway, carefully picking up a shell with legs, and listening as Mrs. Terwilliger explained how to gently return the animal to the home it knew. All of us, adults and children, had to stop and ponder our need to respect even the simplest form of life and our obligation to be mindful and care for it.
The California curriculum began to change, and in keeping with the feathers of the youth movement of the sixties, we began to look to our First Peoples for insight into the natural world and how to regain our place in it. Our textbooks were no longer Eurocentric, but prompted a different approach to the history of African Americans, the Inca, Aztec, and Maya, and the great civilizations of ancient China, Persia, and Egypt.
Over the years, the practical aspects of environmentalism continued to blossom, and indeed, we continue to teach each new generation in many parts of the world that our unity with earth is enormously important.
In the rainforest of Sri Lanka, children gather to plant trees in an land where deforestation is prominent. These children will have a new view of forests and their importance. As they plant, they understand the lesson: If you plant a tree, you change the environment for the better, create clean air, change lives through education, and feed the poor.
In Dubai, these kindergarteners are going green. In addition to the kindergarten, the Rajagiri International School collected cans and bottles, had a green parade on Environment Day, made art from recycled materials, and discussed water conservation—all with the slogan: “Our Earth—Our Future—Just Save it”.
A beach cleanup in South Africa by a local cricket team who took time away from practice.
Children in Jamaica listening to a story by children’s author Jana Bent, The Reggae Band Rescues Mama Edda Leatherback, the story of a turtle who swallows a plastic bag.
Schools around the United States are recycling, offering an environmental Student Council position.
And of course, we cannot forget that children need to be taught, that it is our responsibility to provide the education.
Dawn Wayne had written a marvelous article entitled “Going Green with Children”, a must read. She includes, and explains, suggestions for reducing plastic use, shopping locally, unplugging electrical devices, making Mondays meatless, and encouraging kids to reuse (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dawn-wynne/going-green-with-children_b_3743682.html).
In a recent post on Unify.org, an organization dedicated to world global meditation, a writer commented (http://unify.org/makepeace-a-practical-solution-to-a-world-in-turmoil/):
“Sometimes the simple wisdom of an elder can echo in your mind for many years. In 1998 I was at an international gathering of indigenous elders called Belonging to Mother Earth. Each morning we drove through Camp Pendleton National Guard Base at dawn to participate in a traditional sunrise ceremony on the beach. Before the ceremony one morning an elder spoke.
‘Every day we see these fine young men and women awake earlier than us practicing and preparing for war. They are making their war ceremony and they outnumber us. We must one day outnumber them by greeting the sun with peace ceremonies. Then, perhaps they will join us and the world will know peace.’