…I learned in Kindergarten
It is true. Or maybe it was first grade. In either case, chalk one up for public schools!
I grew up in Apple Valley, California, a small desert community in the upper elevations of the Mojave Desert. Water was certainly available but we learned at an early age to conserve it. A very early memory is of my dad and me assembling a makeshift array of pipes and furrows to channel gray water from our washing machine to irrigate a windbreak of Russian Olive trees (Elaeagnus angustifolia) we had obtained from the local Soil Conservation District.
At about that same time I recall my kindergarten teacher Ms. Van Epps showing us “The Adventures of Junior Raindrop”. Junior Raindrop was an educational film prepared by the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service in 1948. It was an animated short that told the hydrological life cycle story of Junior Raindrop. Looking back today it seems like paleolithic cave paintings compared to anything coming out of Pixar or Dreamworks. But in 1958, it was high art. And it was in color while most television was still in stark black and white.
Rather than offering the Cliff’s Notes version here, you can find this epic in its entirety through the miracle of the Internet. Yes, Junior Raindrop lives on!
That I remember this film some fifty-three years later is less a function of my memory as it is a testament to the value of including environmental issues in early childhood education. It helped that my kindergarten intro to Junior Raindrop was reinforced by hands-on lessons under an inspiring first grade teacher named Vince Ridge. Mr. Ridge would lead our class on field trips into the Mariana Mountains where we would meet up with a local Forest Ranger and plant pine seedlings and build stone dams in gullies and construct brush wattles with the purpose of preserving topsoil through proper watershed management. Those lessons reside within me to this day.
We were spared the dark and scary lessons about environmental degradation until high school when we were assigned to read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb. Fortunately Junior Raindrop had hinted at these more serious environmental themes and lessened the shock of learning that we humans could be our environment’s worst enemy. Taken as a whole, the lessons and books served to heighten my awareness of the fragility of our environment and my capacity to leave either a negative or positive impact upon it. Decisions, decisions…
Environmental concerns should be an essential component of education throughout one’s school years. Our generation may not have time before we pass on to clean up the messes made since mankind left an agrarian lifestyle to pursue its manifest destiny of industrialization and the conquest of nature. As such, we owe it to our children to provide a few tools and a firm grounding in such old fashioned values as “conservation” and “ecology” or what we today call “environmentalism” or “sustainability”.
And as a last resort, what education cannot teach, popular entertainment may serve to inspire. Dr. Seuss’ Lorax speaks for the trees. Freeman Lowell’s androids care for Earth’s last forest, preserved in a geodesic dome launched into space in the 1972 film Silent Running. Al Gore challenged us to face up to An Inconvenient Truth. Wall-E , and Avatar, though clothed as escapist fare are really environmentalist fables. Feel free to share, explore, and discuss these resources with your kids.
That you are visiting this site and reading this post suggests that you too have an interest in our environment and its health and survival. How did you get here and what influenced your environmental sensibilities?
Care to share? K. F. Duke