Picture this: A city where some houses stand in water that has risen to the windows of their second floor. Other houses do not stand at all but now only consist of a basement filled with the former first floor and a roof to cover it up. Cars are flipped onto their sides and crushed like cardboard boxes. There are fallen trees, scattered planks of wood, broken glass, and upturned furniture lining some streets, and slow moving rivers where other street used to be. There are no people. Everyone has left.
This describes the scene after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Destruction of man made structures caused by the environmental disasters can be the most disheartening kind of destruction, because it feels like the very thing that is supposed always support you, the Earth, is attempting to bring about your demise. Due to the way humans have interacted with the Earth over the years the environmental disasters that we face are getting worse. The implications of this threat can easily cause humans who are aware of the problem, and those who are trying to fix it to sink into despair. This can especially become a problem in ecological education, when ecological issues are put at the forefront of the conversation. The solution to this problem is not to treat the despair but to prevent it from happening altogether.
Despair can come about in two ways when dealing with this situation. First the closeness of these problems can cause us to feel devoured by them. It is hard to solve a problem when you are not even sure if you can see all the parts, when you are sitting right inside of it. The largeness of these problems can also be overwhelming to anyone who is even just thinking about ways to change the course we have been on for such a long time. But if we start by shifting the way children think about the environment then we might be able to move forward more confidently.
Terry Tempest Williams presents an idea that would help to change the way children learn about, and learn to think about the environment. In An Unspoken Hunger: Stories From the Field, Williams describes humans’ deep yearning to connect with the Earth and with the beings that inhabit the Earth. But it is a yearning that as we grow older we learn to keep hidden and to not speak about. In the education of children in school this hunger should be fed instead of suppressed and ignored. Children should be allowed ample time outside, they should be allowed to explore their environment (whatever that may mean) instead of simply just being told about how the world works. The interconnectedness of life should be emphasised. In a radio interview with Scott London, Williams said that when humans realise that what we want is to connect with the land, we will then realize where the source of our power lies. If school children are allowed to feed their unspoken hunger, and connect with the Earth they will realize how powerful they are. And they will not splinter under the weight of the enormous ecological problems we are faced with.
Children as they become older will be able to clearly see that humans are a powerful group. We have come up with technology that boggles the mind. There are people who blast through mountains because they have a road to build. There are people who know how to build machines that allow us to soar across the world through the air. There are people who know how to make bombs that when dropped can wipe out the inhabitants of an entire nation. They will see that some of these massive projects direct the power that we have in the wrong direction. They will realize that this power needs to be redirected, but when faced with this new project they will not be daunted because they will know how powerful they are.
If a person knows she does not have the tools she needs to solve a problem, she will give up on trying to solve that problem because her efforts would be wasted. In school children should be equipped with the tools they need to solve problems that will arise in their lives, so they do not feel like they have no choice but to give up. The ecological state of the Earth is a problem that we know our children will be faced with, so we should give them the tools to solve this problem. When it comes to solving ecological problems the best tool to have is the belief that one has the power to solve the problem. That is the platform from which to start, and without it we can not go anywhere. But if we are secure in our knowledge that we are powerful because the Earth is powerful then there is no problem that we can not solve.
Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. New York : First Mariner Books, 2002. Print.
Williams, Terry Tempest. An Unspoken Hunger: Stories From the Field. New York: Random House, 1994. Print.