SHOULD WE TEACH SCHOOLCHILDREN ABOUT ECOLOGY?
by Whit Gibbons
August 27, 2006
As I have
said before, next to parental guidance, most of the credit for today's
environmental awareness should go to schoolteachers. America's children
are better educated about environmental issues and the science of ecology
than ever before. Maybe this means the next generation will be able to
manage the earth's habitats and its natural inhabitants wisely. The beginning
of the school year is a good time to let children develop a sense of ownership
about the natural world, which belongs to all of us.
step is to instill in children the realization that natural resources
are critical for a healthy future--their future. Stressing the sanctity
of all species, even those not officially recognized as endangered or
threatened, is essential. Teaching students responsible stewardship for
all natural environments and wildlife is a critical step toward preserving
native species and their natural habitats. Kindergarten teachers are the
first to impart this important attitude. Simply having children discover
animals and plants in the school yard can be rewarding; they become aware
that insects, birds, and trees are all part of the environment.
for engendering environmental awareness of native species among older
schoolchildren is an adopt-a-wildlife-species program in which students
select a species found in their state. The species might be on the federal
or state endangered species lists, or it might be one of interest for
another reason, such as being the state tree, flower, bird, insect, mammal,
or reptile. A properly planned program could develop a broad understanding
of wildlife and habitat issues in students (as well as teachers and parents).
adoption program at a school can lead to some fascinating projects; even
the process of choosing the species could bring an awareness of regional
wildlife. Simply selecting the species could be a stimulating exercise,
as students justify in letters to the school newspaper or in classroom
essays why a particular species should be chosen. Such a program could
have application across the curriculum. Science classes are an obvious
forum, but projects might also involve journalism, art, and library research.
Term papers for language arts class could be based on the biological background,
geographical range, and historical record of particular species. A social
studies assignment could be to study how the Endangered Species Act became
law, how it is implemented today, and what the political threats are to
its continued existence.
interested in developing such programs, find out which species in the
state are officially protected. Students can obtain a list from the state's
fish and wildlife (or game) department. The exact name of the agency varies
by state but is called the Department of Natural Resources in many. To
find out what species in their region are federally protected, students
can obtain a complete listing of all endangered and threatened species
on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Web site, www.fws.gov/endangered/.
Students will need to determine the status of a particular species, as
one may be federally protected in one state but not in another. For example,
the gopher tortoise is federally threatened in Alabama, Mississippi, and
Louisiana, but is only protected at the state level in Georgia, South
Carolina, and Florida.
instituting an adopt-a-wildlife-species program have asked students to
pledge to help with the management and protection of the chosen species
through a fund-raising campaign. Collection jars were set up in homerooms
where students could contribute spare change. The states’ natural
resources departments encouraged such a program, and the money collected
by the students was used in some identifiable program appropriate for
the species. Such funds will never be adequate to support the nongame
wildlife efforts needed for any state, but the program and process could
help instill in students an awareness of the public’s role in preserving
wildlife, and a personal sense of responsibility for wildlife and natural
who become involved in adopt-a-wildlife-species programs will increase
their awareness of how local, state, and federal land management activities
and political decisions affect habitats and wildlife. We need to encourage
such awareness, particularly over the next few months as Congress deals
with proposed modifications to the Endangered Species Act.
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