Remembering Sean Carson

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

I recently read parts of Environmental Education: principles and practice, published by Edward Arnold in 1978, and edited by Sean McBride Carson.  Odd, you might think, given its venerable 33 years ageing on my bookshelves, but I dived into it for background to aid the book that Paul Vare and I were writing and which is published this week.

Carson was editor of the Arnold text and wrote the brief Introduction.  It's a shame, however, that he didn't contribute more to the book, given his experience, insightful views and trenchant style.   A final Overview would have been of interest and use, letting the reader know what he made of the 14 (inevitably uneven) chapters which followed.

Carson was the County Advisor for environmental education in Hertfordshire and edited NAEE's Environmental Education from 1972 to 1978 (Vol 8) – having edited the journal of NAEE's precursor: the National Rural and Environmental Studies Association.  Carson was a driving force behind the creation of the pioneering 1970s A level Environmental Studies examination for the Associated Board, and author of Environmental Studies, the construction of an 'A' level Syllabus that was published by NFER in 1971.  It is still available from ERIC.

Carson was a giant of early UK environmental education.  Here is a taste of his style:

"The [1965] 'Keele conference on Education and the Countryside' as it was called, brought together for the first time representatives of the various academic disciplines concerned with the landscape, agriculture, forestry, and nature conservation.  Most of the debate, as I well remember, consisted of inter-disciplinary argument, much to the amazement of the organizers who came from planning and conservancy departments of government and not from education.  However, this was inevitable, and from it came the first report using the title Environmental Education.  Report No. 9 to the second 'Countryside in 1970' Conference of October 1970 ... was written, unfortunately, in a style that has so often plagued educational documents, suggesting as wide-spread general trends [that] were really tiny movements maintained by a small number of concerned activists.  It uses phrases like 'A vast increase' to describe what were minimal advances; 'More and more local authorities are appointing advisory officers concerned with ... environmental education', when they could have been numbered on two hands; and of course the Department of Education and Science claimed to have been encouraging environmental education all along — while taking care to absolve itself from any obligation to give any leadership in the future."

Both man and style much missed.  The paperback version of Environmental Education: principles and practice cost £6.95.  In 1978 that must have seemed expensive; as is, sadly, the Vare/Scott book.


A History of Environmental Education: 20/11/2

This is the second of a series of articles about early environmental education in the UK.  Others will appear here on a monthly basis.  You can read previous essays here:

Environmental education in England 1960 to 1979 – a pen picture

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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  • I first met Sean Carson in the early 1970's with the formation of the National Association for Environmental Education(NAEE) when I was a young Advisory teacher for Environmental Education (EE) in Sheffield. At that time Sean was looking to reduce his involvement in NAEE and Philip Neal ,a head teacher, had taken over as general secretary and began to drive NAEE forward. At that time under Sean's influence a number of NAEE local associations were established in LEA.s committed to EE. Hertfordshire under Sean's leadership became one of the most committed to the support of NAEE and provided many officers and committee members long after Sean's retirement. Sean was correct in pointing out the limited and piecemeal support by LEA's for EE and support as I recall came mostly for from LEA's such as Birmingham, Staffordshire, Sheffield ,Buckinghamshire, Durham and Wiltshire .Apologies to those I missed out . Today we greatly miss the innovative and pioneering energy that people such as Sean devoted to their corner of the education world.