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The Greening of Our Kids

Paul O’Reilly

If you have kids at school (and even if you don’t) it’s very likely that you know today is Earth Day. First established in 1970, Earth Day is now recognized around the world with the goal of improving and sustaining our environment.

Although Earth Day is celebrated on different days in different countries, the April 22 date for the U.S. was chosen in part to maximize the participation of schools and colleges. The date comes after spring break and usually falls outside the religious observances of late March or early/mid April. The movement’s founders made a smart decision, as Earth Day has been enthusiastically embraced by teachers and students alike.

Using it as a science teaching opportunity as well as a chance to preach environmental awareness, educators happily use Earth Day to put our children to work. Projects are designed to draw attention to specific threats to the life-cycles of humans, animals and other living organisms, as well as more universal dangers such as global warming.

Not surprisingly, the last few years have seen a shift in emphasis in both the method and focus of teaching to include technology and the Internet. Like many innovations through the history of mankind, technology presents both environmental efficiencies and inefficiencies. Take the idea of converting paper medical records to a digital format. Such a project would undoubtedly save an enormous amount of paper and lead to improved diagnostics and treatment, but there would be a cost in a dramatically higher carbon footprint for the medical profession as a whole.

So what are the educational themes for this year’s Earth Day? Well, using very unscientific selection criteria from official and unofficial web sites, as well as a review of my kids’ home study projects, these appear to be this year’s most important issues:

  • Acid rain, climate change and drinking water. The effect of the global environment on the availability and quality of drinking water, particularly in developing countries, has become a primary topic of concern.
  • Reduce, re-use, recycle. It’s no longer all about trash and plastics. Here, technology becomes one of our concerns, as we struggle to deal with the toxic elements that are used in the manufacture of thousands of gadgets and high-tech equipment.
  • Energy saving. From alternative power sources (wind, solar) to swapping out energy-wasting incandescent light bulbs, energy conservation remains a popular topic.
  • Endangered species. Always one of the most effective environmental awareness aids, teaching kids about endangered animals – and how we need to change the environment to protect their natural habitats – is once again near the top of the list.

Whatever the specific subject matter, it’s encouraging that environmental issues seem to have permanently found their way onto the school curriculum. Hopefully, we are developing a generation of children that might one day take better care of the planet than many of their parents and grandparents did!     

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