Asking Yourself Who Benefits?: A Post Pandemic Lesson
Here’s the story!
Back in 1995/96, an Independent Commission on Environmental Education was established to help us poor educators sift through the plethora of environmental education textbooks, curriculum teaching guides and manuals: essentially all environmental educator teacher resources. Think Project Wild and Project Learning Tree back in the 90’s or Coyote’s guide to Connecting with Nature today. The issue more specifically in the words of one of the members for the Commission was the unevenness in quality, the perception that educational materials may oversimplify complex science and economic concepts while making unsupported appeals for activism and an observed bias against industry. There was also a concern for outdated information. Which of these criteria do YOU think were primary and which took a secondary role or served as a smoke screen. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. The Commission, in short, was to “advocate” for certain teacher resources at the expense of others to be “deleted” (we might say in today’s vernacular) so teachers were relieved of the burden of so much choice. Sounds good right?
The Commission had support from the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE) and was administered by the George C. Marshall Institute with some identified and one anonymous foundation. The “independent” Commission claimed to have no ties formal or informal to any organization other than the Marshall Institute, a not-for-profit science and public policy research group. Trouble is, the commission working group, in the words of one observer, Zygmunt Plater, an Environmental Law Professor at the time, was underwritten by anti-environmental foundations and corporations. Teaching about environmental degradation and endangered species for example, was called “environmental hysteria”. Basically, and I know you know where I am going , teacher resources that had environmental advocacy built into their curriculum were not included on their final list of recommended resources. You could talk about the Monarch butterfly life cycle and migration patterns but not depleted habitat threatening the butterflies survival. Zygmunt Plater concludes; ”we must not retreat from perceptive analytics to innocuousness. We must continue to serve society”. (1996, 23) This is a far cry from the opposite; society [read: status quo] serving education.
If memory serves me well (1), there was some embarrassment experienced by the NAAEE, and much name calling with the net result being the commission had moderate impact. The tobacco industry tried the same, on a much grander scale. That is, to undermine the health issues of smoking cigarettes and climate change by creating doubt about the accuracy of the science (Oreskes & Conway, 2010). Today there are similar issues with Facebook/Google to which I should be paying more attention ……admittedly.
Post Pandemic Thinking
My point. We should be asking ourselves WHO BENEFITS? Is there a hidden agenda, insidious or not, driving an initiative. Another point. Environmental/Outdoor Education is political; always, by what we choose to teach and choose not to teach (or are told/encouraged not to).
In a post pandemic global era of the anthropocene (an epoch that acknowledges humanities altering impact of the earth) we need to be aware of efforts that will be made to return to a normalcy that perpetuates a less healthy, less ecologically sound “status quo”. We, a big collective “we” here, have an opportunity to advance a healthier/ecologically wiser status quo into being/into becoming. Outdoor Education is well positioned to be a player for change. Zygmunt Plater was right back in 1996, We must be aware of our role to serve society and not to have society dictating all the terms to education. That requires a big shift and perhaps we are in shifting times. If it is a top down flow of policy making, ask yourself: who benefits? We don’t want education to be rendered towards innocuousness in a post pandemic time. We’ve learned too much about life energy (call it what you will) for outdoor life in our everyday lives. In Australia, there is a new buzz word, Outdoor Healthcare. Indeed there is a rallying of educators and health professionals around Outdoor Healthcare. In the 1990’s, also out of Australia (I’m not clear if this is a coincidence) there was a push to distinguish between an Ecopolitical Education and an Outdoor Environmental Education. The 1995/96 “Independent” Commission on Environmental Education story presented here showcases the need for an eco political attention always to be at attention in outdoor/environmental education. Indeed the commission was masking (or trying to) a corporate railing against eco-political inroads to Outdoor Environmental Education.Today, or in a post pandemic future, it should come as no surprise that one of the first anthology textbooks in ecology was titled ‘The Subversive Science.” (1969).
Authors Note: Beyond the Disinger and Plater references attending the NAAEE Conferences at the time, provides for me many memories of delegates realizing that their own “top down” representation must be scrutinized.
Disinger, J. (1996) Independent Commission on Environmental Education. Environmental
Communicator: NAAEE Newsletter, p.11.
Plater, Z. (1996) A Response to Bora Simmons’s Recent President’s Message. Environmental
Communicator: NAAEE Newsletter, p.12, 21-23.
Oreskes, N. & Conway, E.M. (2010) Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured
the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, New York; Bloomsburg.
Shepard, P. & McKinley, D. (eds) (1969) The Subversive Science: Essays Toward an Ecology of
Man, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.