For the cynical young;Cross-phase;Reviews;Subject of the week;Environment

26th June 1998 at 01:00
PROTECTING OUR PLANET SERIES. Forests for Life. By Edward Parker

Fuels for the Future. Waste, Recycling and Re-use. By Steve Parker

Keeping the Air Clean. By John Baines. Keeping Water Clean. By Ewan McLeish

The World's Wild Places. By John Howson

Wayland pound;10.99 each

LIVING FOR THE FUTURE SERIES. Homes and Cities. Tourism in Balance. By Sally Morgan

World Food. By Sally Morgan and Pauline Lalor

Energy and Resources. By Paul Brown

Business and Industry. By Simon Beans and Chris Barrie

Watts pound;10.99 each

There is increasing evidence of what one might term "eco-fatigue" in classrooms, especially around the Year 10 age group. At that age teenagehood and all it implies is central; the impact of smog in the Far East or any other distant ecological disaster simply does not touch these young people's lives. Trying to pass on a form of vicarious guilt for events over which they have no control is just another example, to many of them, of a generation gap and, perhaps, the irrelevance of school.

Such attitudes may seem cynical, but they are nevertheless a reality which those who seek to educate the next generation on ecological and environment matters must overcome. One way is perhaps to challenge perceptions at an earlier age than Year 10, when the influence of self is less all pervasive.

Both of these series are aimed at young people between the ages of eight to 12. They are beautifully presented in full colour, with many photographs and illustrations breaking up the text.

Protecting our Planet is the weightier of the two, both in terms of the number of pages - about 50 - and the amount of text. At the end of each title are useful lists of addresses, further reading, resources and relevant Web sites for further research and information and communication technology work as well as a glossary.

To their credit, the books do not attempt a simplistic, right or wrong analysis and they avoid both Anglocentricity and condescension towards the developing world. They use recent data and display the information in a clear and accessible form. Since there is no attempt to ask questions or prompt debate, their use as textbooks would be limited.

This is equally true of the Living for the Future series, which is explicitly designed for school libraries or resource bases.

As the titles indicate, they cover much the same area as the Protecting our Planet series, the text and data are far less detailed. They use Agenda 21 as a theme and include the 1997 Earth Summit where appropriate. Some of them do fall into the trap of over-simplification and sloganeering at times, which is perhaps understandable given their length of only 30 pages or so.

Less excusable is an over-emphasis on doom and gloom, which may lead to the feeling that their readers are somehow to blame, and which results in cynicism as they get older. That said, the books are lavishly illustrated, and, like Protecting our Planet, they also contain a list of addresses, a glossary and an index.

It is clear from reading both series that few authors or publishers are aware of, or take into account, the work of Benjamin Aldrich-Moodie and Jo Kwong. Their report, Environmental Education, published by the Institute of Economic Affairs last October, shows how ill-informed many of our texts concerned with environmental issues are. Even that most basic economic concept - opportunity cost - is ignored. Without it, how might one explain to the young readers of these books that none of them was printed on recycled paper? Now who's cynical?

David Lines is lecturer in education and a member of the education, environment and economy group at the Institute of Education, University of London

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