Why panic pupils over green issues?

5th October 2007 at 01:00
I can recall the "green scares" when I was at primary school in the 1970s. The rainforests were apparently being chopped down at such a rate that "soon there will be no trees left no trees, no air, the end is nigh".

One measure taken at school to save the trees was to conserve paper. I remember the blue jotters we used and how we were instructed to use the front and back cover and to write in the margins to save paper, save trees, and ultimately save mankind.

As it turned out, the rainforests appear still to be with us, and what was a bit of a panic is usefully forgotten by those who now preach environmentalism to the current generation of children. However, whereas the jotters carry-on was a bit of a one-off and only lasted a couple of years, environmentalism today seems to be assuming a central role in schools and education in general.

Not only has the geography curriculum changed to incorporate what some have argued is a form of "environmental correctness" rather than geographical knowledge, but schools are themselves attempting to acquire the status of the "eco-school".

My son, who is on his school's eco- committee, has already incorporated a number of the moralistic concerns of environmentalism and gives me the occasional lecture about why I shouldn't use my car, why I should turn off all lights and why I must recycle rubbish. The Government's hope that it can engineer the behaviour of the young around green issues, and that children as in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four will put pressure on parents to behave "correctly", appears to be well on the way to realisation.

The rather complex issues of climate change, global warming and environmentalism itself (which we should remember has, until recently, been seen as contestable) cannot be understood fully if at all by primary pupils. My son, for example, was panicking somewhat when I picked him up in the car recently, because "the world is getting hotter". The reason he thought the world was getting hotter was that "the sun is getting closer to the earth every day".

While engineering the behaviour of children and their parents, the green agenda appears to be creating new anxieties for the young. Instead of trying to be eco-schools, perhaps schools should simply try to be, well, schools.

Stuart Waiton

is director of GenerationYouthIssues.org

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