ARE OUR BEST HOPE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
September 12, 2010
begins for little children across the country, I remember an earlier adventure
in which I watched two little children, Andrew and Emily, find bugs under
a log in the woods. They found three roly-polies, slate gray; a beetle
grub, ivory white; and a not-to-be-touched centipede, bright orange. Emily
caught the fat grub and wanted to keep it; she returned it to its home
after her brother put down the roly-polies he had caught. Both are college
age now and are still fascinated by animals big and small.
intently when I told them not to pick up the centipede. I explained that
they should not touch any animal unless someone who knows about it says
it is safe to do so. Children should be taught not to fear nature but
to respect it. No animal should be labeled "bad" because it
protects itself by biting or stinging; it just shouldn't be picked up
unless you know what you are doing. Children should learn that every animal
must protect itself. Some bite or sting. Others may hide or run away or
smell bad. Youngsters' unassuming attitude toward life is appealing. Early
exposure to the living world is the ideal way to ensure a child reaches
adulthood with an appreciation of the environment.
I also introduced
two brothers, Jacob and Justin, to some wonders of our natural world and
was confronted with an intriguing puzzle about child behavior. During
a trip to an ecology lab, the boys held a big pine snake, a full-grown
possum, baby alligators and a large gopher tortoise. Neither showed any
alarm. Then, I showed them a small marbled salamander, a harmless, shiny,
black-and-white creature that fascinates almost everyone. Most people
want to touch it. Jacob was terrified; he clung to his daddy as if a monster
had entered the room. I marveled that this was the same little boy who
had just held an enormous constricting snake twice as long as he was and
as big around as his 3-year-old leg.
wanted nothing more to do with amphibians, we left to go feed a big alligator
in a nearby pond enclosed by a chain-link fence. When the 600-pound reptile
came out of the water to be fed, I had to tell both boys to step away
from the fence because they were getting too close. Fascinated by an 11-foot
alligator and frightened by a tiny salamander? It was and still is a puzzlement
a time when learned versus innate behavior was clearly at work. I was
talking about local animals to a dozen parents and their children in a
friend's backyard. My friend wanted his neighbors to develop an appreciation
of the wildlife around them. A lot of neighborhoods could use a dose of
local ecology as many people are unaware of what fascinating plants and
animals are within walking distance of their homes.
a few frogs, lizards and turtles, everyone was attentive, including a
man holding a baby. All moved closer to see what would be displayed next.
I reached in to get a harmless kingsnake and the snake bolted out of the
bag. Within seconds I had retrieved the snake, but not before the audience
was classic. Twelve parents went scrambling backward; fourteen children
were moving forward. All the kids tried to touch the snake and most wanted
to hold it. The little baby was reaching toward me, clearly lamenting
the fact that she was being carried away from the scene by a father who
wasn't looking back. I do believe behavioral conditioning entered into
this picture: its absence in the children, its presence in the adults.
to our environmental problems are going to be found in the future, we
must invest in the proper training and education of today's children by
teaching them to respect nature and to enjoy the myriad wonders in the
natural world. Then they can teach their parents how to appreciate the
living world around them.
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