Sunday, October 27, 2013

Educating kids is not the answer

I have had to make a new label on our blog called 'Rants'. I wanted to call it 'nostril flaring rants by Amy that may use over generalizations and might offend people' but that would not fit on the label, so I'll stick with just 'Rants'. Ads is opposed to my publishing my rants because he doesn't want our blog to get all political. I promised him it wouldn't be political. But it wasn't a core promise.

This particular rant is about how I want to headbutt the next person who tells me that the solution is to 'educate the children' or 'it's up to the next generation'. This comment pisses me off for several reasons.

Firstly, how dare we stuff up the planet so badly, then expect our kids to clean it up. My Quincey can't even clean up his spilt milo, let alone the great pacific garbage patch. They are the children, we are the grown ups. We need to take responsibility now for our mess and try to leave them a planet that is not totally trashed.

Secondly, we don't have time. Just have a quick glance over the IPCC's latest report. We don't have 10 years to wait for our kids to enter the workplace, let alone 30 years for them to become CEOs and decision makers. That's what us grown ups are now and we need to use our positions to make the right decisions now.

Thirdly, I don't think it works - at least not alone. Ever tried to learn art from someone who can't draw or another language from someone who can only speak English - but has a book on how to do it? It's not very convincing is it? If we are to teach sustainability we need to walk the walk and talk the talk. The new Australian Curriculum now has 'Sustainability' as a 'cross curriculum priority'. To my mind, that implies that teachers should be taking some action towards sustainability in their own lives (demanding, hu?). These days it's totally unacceptable to see a teacher smoking because we value health and want to role model healthy behaviour to our kids, yet we try to teach sustainability while sucking out of a disposable coffee cup, walking by rubbish on the playing field, and printing worksheets by the rheem on virgin white paper. It's no wonder kids are experiencing increased mental health problems (controversial, hu?). In the classroom they are taught about climate change, the problems of non-renewable energy, waste, water and every other anxiety inducing problem we face and then told how wonderful it is to ride a bike, to limit air travel, turn off standbys, grow native gardens. But alas, what do children see around them? Grown ups who do the opposite. We've told the kiddos the world as we know it is ending soon and what do we grown ups do? Go to Bali.

I think my generation was one of the first to be taught about environmental issues at school. I distinctly remember being taught about the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy in about grade 7 (11 or 12 years old). Of course I panicked and went home and told my mum. Did she know about this? We are running out of fuel and the little we have left is stuffing up the atmosphere. Turns out she did know but had to do the grocery shopping right now and did I want to come with her. Yes, I did want to go with her but only if we rode our bikes. No, we couldn't ride because how would we get the groceries home? Well, I was stumped. After a time though, I concluded that the grown ups must have it all worked out because otherwise there would be panic in the streets and there wasn't. Now I am a grown up and I find that the grown ups don't have it worked out. Not even the ones like me who received environmental education as a kid. What are we doing? Well in WA we are mainly FIFOing in the resources sector.

I also hate the way we think that 'pester power' will actually work. Imagine this: traumatized kid comes home from school and tells his family to get solar panels, family can't afford this and are not particularly interested and just tell the child no. Child is left bemused and confused. Kids aren't (well, shouldn't be, in my opinion) the decision makers of the household. Adults are.

Okay, to tone down my rant, of course I believe we should teach sustainability in schools because it is essential to give kids skills and knowledge to help them make decisions and behave in a way that is kind to the earth. But for this to be effective they need to see it all around them in their parents, on telly, by politicians and by CEOs, not just teachers who are ticking a box. So we cannot put all our eggs in the 'education' basket, it's only one teeny tiny prong of the approach we need to take.

I love educating and inspiring adults at work with the Earth Carers program and hearing about the fantastic work that is done by the Living Smart gang. Adults have the world at their fingertips and can make changes immediately. I also love teaching kids about waste and sustainability, that's a part of my job too. I just hope that they are not being let down by adults.


  1. That wasn't a rant Amy, it was a brilliant essay. I totally agree that adults need to step up to the plate and walk the walk. Not enough are doing anything near as sustainable as they should be, and don't even give a second thought to their lifestyles. Kids need great role models, and if Adults don't start step up in large numbers, they will not have any worthy to follow into the next generation.

    Gav x

  2. I totally agree with Gavin, great article!
    I teach sustainability as part of a secondary school program on innovation and opportunity and it is really difficult when the adults around them are not willing or not able to lead by example.


  3. I agree, I teach primary school kids to grow organic vegetables and keep chooks. I am also very vocal about living a semi-sustainable life myself (the more we talk about it the better). But I do think that 'pester power' works not only from kids though; social pressure is the key.

  4. Hi guys, thanks for your kind comments. I'll rant more often :)
    Yes, Jude, I like what you say about social pressure - I take that to mean that it should just be everywhere, not only in schools.
    I was pretty judgmental in the post but I know its hard being a sustainable grown up and noone is perfect (least of all me!) but we just have to try, right?

  5. Great rant. I work at a Wetlands Education Centre and we practice and demonstrate sustainability to everyone who comes through, not just the kids but also people hiring the facility. We discuss this often as staff and have concluded that sustainability is best "taught" by setting a good example. It is also an incredibly slow way to promote behaviour change and often you will never know the results of your actions but it does seem to work.

  6. I want more of those rants Amy!
    And yes, when teaching sustainability you have to walk the talk! Even in all my other classes I work paperless for so many years now and finally other teachers start to take my example at Curtin and TAFE.
    Lots of students cycle, and all the time I have students telling me stuff about what they hear and do, which is so good!
    But yes, we are the grown ups! We need to be sorting out stuff and not voting imbeciles to run this country...