Going green should not cost respect

In my last article (TESS, August 29), I argued that one of the reasons for difficulties at school between teachers and pupils was the decline in the authority of education itself and a loss of any overall "philosophy" in the direction of school life.

There is, however, one emerging "moral" mission which appears as if it is becoming ever more central to schools - and that is environmentalism.

Having recently moved from Glasgow to Dundee, I was interested to note that, on visiting his new school, my son was told by the headteacher - with pride - that the school had a bronze eco-award. He wasn't impressed. "My old school has a green flag, and I was on the eco-committee", he said.

I first noticed the shift to the "eco-card" being played as a new form of authority when, about five years ago, a church in the west end of Glasgow stuck up a poster proclaiming that it was to have an "eco-congregation". God, it seemed, was no longer authority enough for that particular church.

What, I wondered, would the environmental sceptics of the congregation do now? Does Hell await all those who do not bow down to mother earth?

Traditional forms of institutional authority are clearly compromised today, from the monarchy to any overt forms of nationalism and, indeed, to religion. But can environmentalism be a new framework for authority and purpose in society and within our schools?

One problem with playing the green card in schools is that it runs the risk of undermining adult authority, rather than helping to develop it. A play performed by my son and his classmates in his former school illustrates this point.

In the play, a number of pupils, having watched an environmental video, decided to set up the We Care club, aimed at informing people about how their behaviour damages the environment. The first target for the pupils was Mrs Brown. "Look over there," my son exclaimed. "That's Mrs Brown getting out of her car. Do you know she only lives two streets away?" Outrageous!

Mrs Brown was challenged by her pupils and defensively explained that she brought her car because it looked like it might rain. "Well, I don't mean to offend you or anything," another pupil said, "but have you ever heard of an umbrella or a hood?"

Mrs Brown protested once more but was put in her place by the children, eventually conceding: "Oh you little rascals! I suppose you are right and I'm just being lazy. From now on, I'll try my best to walk every day."

A victory for the wise children over the selfish, lazy adults.

A silly little play this may have been, but there does seem to be something fundamentally problematic about how environmentalism is being taught today - with adults playing the role of fools who have damaged the world and need to be put in their place by children. It is particularly strange that it is teachers teaching children to mock and chastise adults for their lazy selfishness - the adultchild role of educator being fundamentally turned on its head.

If my son is anything to go by, the "moral" messages being generated by eco-schools are naive and simplistic. But as I am one of the adults apparently responsible for "destroying the planet", who am I to complain?

Stuart Waiton is director of Generation YouthIssues.org.

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