205. Ecology

“Ecology” was not even one of the words we had to memorize when we were memorizing ologies in junior high. We memorized “cytology,” “hematology,” “psychology,” and more, but I don’t think we even heard of “ecology.” The word existed, but I guess it wasn’t considered important enough for us to memorize it.
Then, around 1970, it “became” important. Children learned about the evils of pollution. I joined the crusade as soon as I became aware of it. I taught second graders that the world was being destroyed by people who were short-sighted, and we’d better do something about it soon. I was new to teaching, didn’t know much about children, and thought we could rely on the trickle-down effect to save the crumbling environment. We’d messed up the world, and we had to get children to clean it up.
I did the time-honored bean experiment with children: try growing a bean plant with no light, another with no water, etc. Find out what beans need. But I added one variable; I put some exhaust from my car into a jar after planting a bean seed in the jar. Bad idea. The bean plant in that jar did better than any other bean plant. It was tall, green, and doing fine. I later took a course in environmental education, and the teacher patiently explained to me that plants breathe in carbon dioxide, and evidently the little bean had liked what I’d given it.
I followed up the experiment by talking about the effect pollution has on us animals. We breathe in oxygen, not carbon dioxide. We’re in trouble! At least some of the children must have been frightened by my message – a message many teachers were giving, and still do. And it’s an important message. Saving the earth is not just a pet liberal project to make it so we can take nice walks in the woods; it’s a survival issue.
But it’s our issue, too – not just children’s. Some of us have lived on earth for quite a while, and have grown quite fond of it. And as we get children to care about saving the earth, they’ll be more invested in it if they get more of a chance to grow fond of it. So I eased off a little on the threat of environmental Armageddon, and spent some time helping children get to know the gorgeous planet they were supposed to save. I found out that I didn’t know it as well as I’d thought. I took some courses, and read a little.
It’s a great planet. Others, like Jupiter, Venus, et. al., don’t appear to have conditions that would support life as we know it. I think we should do all we can to keep it going. And actually, it probably will keep going; it’s only some of the species (Homo sapiens, for example) that are endangered.
As scary as our environmental situation is, I don’t think we ought to spend too much time scaring children. They have plenty of time to get scared when they have more resources to turn that fear into action. Children have done some good work to help keep earth safe, but let’s make sure we spend some time showing them the beauty.

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