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Environmentalism in education

A post at Climate Lessons reminded my of my own childhood experiences of environmentalist indoctrination at school. It could have been any post – the whole blog is about how children are frightened and mislead by environmentalists in the classroom.

The topic is closer to home now that I have my own two-year-old son, and it cropped up sooner than I expected. Someone bought him a book about Noah’s Ark. It is perfectly charming: thick cardboard pages; bright colours; but on the last page:

Noah helped save the animals of the earth hundreds of years ago by building an ark. Now we must help to save them too — not from floods, but from human beings who are hunting them, and cutting down the forests where they live.

I mean, come on! It is a story book for toddlers. A silly story from the Bible I can handle, but children should not be worried about this nonsense.

At the turn of the nineties I was at secondary school putting up with some of this. Most of it came from geography class. Deforestation was the big one. An area the size of Wales was destroyed every so often, we were told. Apart from all the extinct animals, the rain forests were needed to turn the carbon dioxide into oxygen. They are the lungs of the planet. These days the rain forests still seem to be there and I am fairly sure that, carbon going round in a cycle, the rain forests are only the lungs of the rain forests. The plants that I (and the animals I eat) eat produce enough oxygen for me.

We also learnt about acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer. Both these problems seem to have gone away, arguably as a result of timely state intervention but more likely because the problems were not so bad in the first place and now they have been replaced by more urgent and dire concerns.

Assuming the BBC exam revision guide is a good proxy for what is taught in GCSE geography lessons in schools, acid rain and the ozone layer are gone from the curriculum. Deforestation is still there, and now we have to worry about climate change, pollution and (oh no!) globalisation. If you follow that last link you will learn about Thomas Malthus and Esther Boserup but not Norman Borlaug.

I remember another strange lesson: not geography; possibly personal social health and flim flam studies or whatever it was called. I can not imagine why but we were made to watch a video that included abattoir footage and there was a class discussion in which we were asked whether the video made us want to be vegetarians. Some of the girls became vegetarians on the spot. I wonder what their parents made of it.

GCSE Double Science was a mostly sensible affair involving the Carnot cycle and electrons apart from one odd day when a guest speaker came in to tell us that more oil was used in the last ten years than in the entire history of humanity before that. The lesson was that this was because oil use doubled every ten years (or whatever the number was). I recognise it now as the standard limits-to-growth spiel, but what was it doing in a fourth year science class? Some organisation must have bribed the school or something.

What harm did it do? Here I am after all, not believing a word of any of it. At the time I believed it, but I was more interested in tectonic plates, magnetic fields and playing Elite on my computer. Most of the rest of the class was only interested in who was snogging whom. We were bombarded with doom and gloom but it was boring and irrelevant.

But I bet a lot of it stayed there, in most of the rest of the class, deep down, in a way that causes them not to question it when they see it on the news. They are not interested: they think about it when they are forced to; they give money to charity when they want to look like nice people or feel good about themselves; they moan about the taxes and they forget about it and get on with their lives. They do not write to their MPs or vote and they do not rise up.

15 comments to Environmentalism in education

  • Josh

    >We also learnt about acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer.

    Anyone know of any good links that talk about acid rain and the ozone layer? Did state action help solve the problem, and if so, to what extent?

    I suspect it didn’t, but it would be good to check it out.


  • Johnathan Pearce

    I am now in my mid-40s and was schooled at a fairly decent state-run comprehensive in East Anglia. By the time I was studying subjects like geography, there was some of this sort of material, but not much, really. Physics was completely outside it and my education in that subject was excellent; the only subject I really remember getting any attempted indoctrination on was in history class. But even there, the teacher was pretty smart enough to put different perspectives across. He was a man of some integrity, in fact, and I owe him a life-long interest in the subject as a result.

    I don’t really know when the corruption of some school-age subjects really began in earnest. I think the late 80s and early 90s was a key period. Ironically, it coincided with the disastrous decision of the Thatcher administration to introduce a national curriculum; instead of pushing up standards, it gave the unreformed teaching establishment a chance to foist its views on children with even more enthusiasm.

    I am reading James Delingpole’s excellent “Watermelons”; he correctly identifies the corruption of parts of the scientific community, but what is perhaps more chilling is not the corruption, but the fanaticism of people who think it is, for instance, okay, even moral, to lie and distort for the “greater good”.

    But paradoxically, the reason why this sort of mindset flourishes is because the older, post-Enlightenment focus on logic, reason and evidence-based testing of theories was undermined by such disasters as post-modernism, structuralism, and all those ideas that sought to undercut the idea that there is such a thing of objective, provable reality.

    Yes, I know that a lot of libertarians don’t like her, but Ayn Rand was right: if your basic philosophy is crap, so is everything else. We are reaping what we have sown.

  • All true from the recent experience of my kids. My fifteen year old son has invented a good term to describe green morals presented in lessons (such as German) which were not meant to be about the environment: “shrubbery”.

    This is a play on the word “greenery” and this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

    “We shall say ‘Ni’ again to you if you do not appease us!”

    “What is it you want?”

    “We want…. a shrubbery!

    You have to give the Knights Who Say ‘Ni’ shrubbery to appease them.

  • By the way, Rob, you also touched on “globalisation” being presented as a threat. Along with the Green propaganda there is a great deal of economic propaganda presented in Geography, History, Religious Studies (!), and, I am particularly sorry to say, the hard sciences.

    It’s been a hobby horse of mine for some years. I posted about anti-capitalism/greenery in Religious Studies back in 2005 and I can assure you that recent GCSE physics papers included questions about how accurately the public perceive the risk of radiation from natural sources. Not about how to calculate the risk or its physical origin; about how people think about the risk.

  • Stonyground

    Can anyone explain to me what ‘globalisation’ is exactly, and why some people think that it is a bad thing? A few years ago I used to listen to Radio 4 a lot and they actually interviewed an anti-globalisation guy. I was quite interested to know what the problem was and whether I should be against it or not. The interview left me non the wiser.

  • Jacob

    That’s easy: globalization if a fancy word that Tom Friedman invented to try to sound clever.
    It means trade.
    It is vilified because if produces wealth and well being. The prophets of doom hate wealth (except their own wealth).

  • Natalie: I like shrubbery (I might start using it myself) and I like that blog post. The bit about the marking scheme is interesting. That’s the nub of the matter; that defines the hoops through which students must jump. Are past marking schemes published anywhere?

    Globalisation… here is what the BBC’s exam revision guide says:

    Globalisation is the process by which the world is becoming increasingly interconnected as a result of massively increased trade and cultural exchange.

    I think Jacob is right. It’s trade but it’s bad because people in rich countries are more powerful and able to negotiate deals to that are not to the best advantage of people in poor countries. The BBC exam site again:

    Globalisation operates mostly in the interests of the richest countries, which continue to dominate world trade at the expense of developing countries. The role of LEDCs in the world market is mostly to provide the North and West with cheap labour and raw materials.

    Where to start? For one thing they are singularising a plural again. The role of an individual in an LEDC working in, say, a textiles factory, is to produce cheap textiles in return for money which they can use to buy food and shelter, the alternative being subsistence farming and an early death.

    This needs its own blog post, I think…

  • Also the quiz:

    Correct. A negative impact of globalisation is that jobs are lost in MEDCs.

    I don’t think that’s true at all. Has anyone even purported to show that outsourcing causes unemployment? At best it sounds like speculation and hard to measure.

  • nemesis

    I was wondering if there is any subject that is not corruptible and I can only think of ‘Maths’

  • Richard Thomas

    Nemesis: If Mary goes to the orchard and picks six apples and Joe sits at home and plays xbox all day, How many apples must Nigel forcefully transfer to Joe for social justice to occur (Nigel takes four apples for himself as compensation for the service)

  • veryretired

    My college guy had to interview his parents about their views for some class recently, and one of the questions was about education.

    I’m not sure how the teacher is going to react to my response that modern education is an obsolete, dumbed down, pc, multi-culti disaster that should be, and probably will be, superceded by more individualized and open systems using computerized capabilities for both individual study and group participation.

    The 19th century industrial school model we currently maintain is clearly bankrupt and counterproductive, but is supported by powerful lobbies who are either comfortable with it because it is all they know (mostly parents), or who fear any change that might reduce their institutional power( teachers’ unions, administrators, and education theorists).

    I am sure that he or she will not be amused when i state that the primary cause of the disastrous situation is the takeover of education by educational theorists who flit from one failed theory to another, leaving the debris of uneducated generations behind them like discarded fast food wrappings.

    Otherwise, I agree with both John and Natalie above.

  • RAB

    Oh indoctrination is nothing new, I did A level Economics in a class of nine, in the late 60s (It was considered a new and rather difficult subject for the curriculum then) and it was pure Keynesianism. Our main text book was by J K Galbraith.

    Then one day our teacher, a fine man, said…

    “Well you are a pretty good bunch of pupils, so today I am going to tell you about the Austrian school, you deserve to know the other side of this subject, but for god’s sake don’t put any of this in your exam papers, or they’ll fail you.”

  • chip

    Maths is being corrupted too. Before we left Canada last month to live in Bali, the teacher colleges were ramping up their focus on social justice with a focus on incorporating gender and race issues into math classes.

    This is of course happening simultaneously with Canada’s steady fall down the international PISA rankings and a petition being circulated by university math professors lamenting the declining standards.

    We did most of our learning at home with the Singapore math method and other lessons. School is really just play time in Canada.

  • As far back as history records, there have been people screaming “Catastrophe! And it’s all our fault!” And they’ve tried to instruct their kids to not do those things that offend the god(s).

    With increased global communication, any particular catastrophe wears out much faster, and a new one must be found.

    The only constant is that somebody wants to howl and scold about catastrophe, and will seize upon anything to do it.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    I do wish people would stop picking on the Bible! Noah’s Ark is not a story, but real History! the trick is to realise that the Bible concentrates on the lineage of Adam and Eve, exclusively. The end of Genesis Chapter one has God sending humans out into the world, and seeing that everything was very good. However, when Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden, it is because they’ve started sinning- and there is no mention of God seeing that all was very good. Therefore, these are two seperate events, so Adam and Eve are one branch of an existing human family.
    Therefore, the humans wiped out by the flood are the other members of this branch, and the flood would have been a large local flood- with Noah saving some of the animals that are native to that region of the world. The Bible can be read as literally true, without contradicting the archaeological evidence.