I don't know how many times the Duke of Edinburgh has commented on environmental education, but he has been very interested in environmental matters for over 60 years both in the UK and world-wide, for example through his presidency of WWF International. It was in 1970, as he was being introduced at a Countryside in 1970 conference by Philip Neal (as Chairman of the National Rural and Environmental Studies Association – NRESA) that the Duke came out with this characteristically to the point comment: "Good grief. What a title!"
Neal recounts this story in the lead article (pp. 5-6) in the 1971 NRESA journal (Environmental Studies). It was a useful anecdote for him as he was campaigning to change the title of NRESA to something more firmly focused on the environment. "We are the association of teachers concerned with the environment – let us state this quite clearly." he wrote, suggesting the title: the Association for Environmental Education as it would "parallel the Association for Science Education [and] the Association for Physical Education."
A reading of this brief article suggests that Neal's two arguments were essentially pragmatic. The first was the need to remove the reference to "rural" from the "rural and environmental" of the title because the language used in similar associations, both national and international, was now centring on the environment. He mentioned the Department of Education and Science in his argument:
"Direct from the Department of Education and Science we are assured that our Association is held to be the authoritative voice in environmental [education] matters. Yes – Environmental. We must face facts. No longer are there quite distinctly rural and urban environments – the boundaries are blurred."
Neal's point was that there was a danger of the Association's being left behind, a concern that was to prove prescient despite a change of title. The other even more pragmatic reason came down to membership and income; that is, a lack of both. The two arguments were linked as Neal made clear:
"We need more money – we need a new image to gain more members and to draw into our orbit a wider public. More members, more subscriptions. Our Association must speak for all educationalists concerned with the world around us. I ask you to support our endeavour to create an Association, financially strong and one which is seen to represent a wide interest and not a narrow, and, I fear, dwindling specialisation."
This attempt to change the name of the Association came only two years after a previous attempt in 1969 when there was a proposal to insert "and Environmental" into the title "National Rural Studies Association" (formed in 1960). The proposal narrowly succeeded and gave rise to the NRESA.
Neal's arguments won the day at the September 1971 AGM of the NRESA, and the name change was voted through by 46 votes to 8. But Association for Environmental Education wasn't chosen, more's the pity, perhaps; it was the National Association for Environmental Education [NAEE] that won the day, and it was agreed that this change was to be “accompanied by positive steps to broaden the aims, objectives and membership of the Association.”
Given that 44 of the 46 votes came from representatives of County Associations whose membership (representing teachers in schools) was the backbone of the Association – the other 2 votes were from individual members – this suggests that the evolution over the past ten years from rural (studies) to environmental (education) was reasonably widely supported. The proposer of the motion at the AGM made this point in his introduction of the motion:
"We are looking for a title for a National organisation which has evolved very slowly over the past 10 years out of the enthusiasm of rural studies teachers. Recent events must make us accelerate the rate of our own evolution and cause us to accept a title under which all subjects contributing towards environmental education identity (sic) themselves. Each individual subject teacher has and will continue to have his or her part to play and contribute to the whole – environmental education. The rural studies teacher has now an even more important and significant contribution to make and ... must be prepared to defend himself and his subject, fight for recognition, be prepared to teach up to 'A' level; and participate in projects ... . After all, sixth formers are the people who are most likely to be tomorrows decision-makers, tomorrows planners and above all live in a world which you and I have helped shape or mis-shape for them."
In the end then, it was easier to see how the rural fitted within the environmental rather than the environmental within the rural, even though this meant trading a substantive, real-world subject for a contested set of ideas with no curriculum niche. That contestation remains today, albeit is an evolved form. So, 50 years on, does the lack of a clear slot in the curriculum.
A History of Environmental Education: 21/1/4
This is the fourth in a series of articles about early environmental education in the UK. Others will appear here on a monthly basis. You can read previous articles here:
Environmental education in England 1960 to 1979 – a pen picture