From Rachel Carson to Greta Thunberg

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I gave a talk last Saturday to at the University of Birmingham Education Department's postgraduate research conference which had a climate and sustainability theme.  I traced the attempts to have schools take environmental issues seriously in what they taught students, doing this over a 60 year perspective: from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring to Greta Thunberg's #FridaysforFuture.

I chose Rachel Carson because her iconic book was instrumental in the development of both modern environmentalism and what we came to know as environmental education; and Greta Thunberg chose herself in a way as so much has developed from her dissatisfaction which led to her sitting in front of the Swedish parliament.  My talk was on the day following the latest of the Friday school strikes which, sadly, were pushed off the front pages by yet more pointless murders.

Everyone in the room (some 80 people) had heard of Greta Thunberg, but no one had heard of Rachel Carson which did not really surprise me, especially as some had not heard of the sustainable development goals.

I did a Cook's tour of developments in England; from the 1965 Keele conference through the golden age of environmental education in the 1970s, to its ruination by the national curriculum in the 80s and the pathetic sop to activists that was its designation as a cross-curriculum theme in the 1990s.  I lingered over the unfunded and non-mandatory sustainable schools initiative, which focused on care as a slogan but excluded biodiversity as a topic, and then spent time on UKSCN and Teach the Future before exploring what we might be teaching about climate in schools now.  I shall return to this on Friday.

At the end of the talk, I compared these two quotes:

People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.  We are in the beginning of a mass extinction.  And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”  – Greta Thunberg addressing the UN, 2019

We still talk in terms of conquest.  We still haven't become mature enough to think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe.  We in this generation, must come to terms with nature, and … prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”   Rachel Carson interviewed by CBS, 1964

55 years on the CBS interview we still have not "come to terms with nature, and … prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves".  You have to wonder if we ever shall.


Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • Wish I was there! I wonder what sort of questions you got?