School Watch: Dealing in Despair

Hysteria, pronounced Freud, was the psychic disorder to   which Victorians most readily succumbed, whereas narcissism, according to Christopher Lasch and others, is the one to which we twentieth-century dwellers are most vulnerable.

Because environmental activists are saturating this and other nations’ classrooms with fear-driven environmental education (E.E.), the most common psychic disorder of the new millennium worldwide likely will be “catastrophobia” or “eco-despair.”

A section from the American text Earth Science: The Challenge of Discovery warns that climate changes, caused by humans, would submerge “. .. New York and Hong Kong … beneath the sea.” It includes an illustration of the New York City skyline with the water level higher than the Statue of Liberty and most skyscrapers, except for the World Trade Center.

Another classroom article, from Science Gazette, illustrates global warming with photographs of houses falling into the sea and a 1930s dust-bowl farm. Environmental damage is made to seem irreparable, and the disasters ahead inevitable. In the western United States, severe drought will cause the abandonment of farms; yet elsewhere, wet weather will cause “valuable food crops … to be gobbled up by [an explosion] of insect pests.”

As observed by environmental researcher Jo Kwong, professional environmentalists, whose livelihood is linked to advocating specific policies, are the chief purveyors of these preconceived, simplistic “science” lessons. According to Kwong, such instruction often is based not only in emotionalism, but misinformation; they often aim, not at teaching scientific methodology and understanding but at determining what students think and enlisting them in lockstep advocacy.

Employees, for example, of Greenpeace and the Sierra Club prepackage and distribute such E. E. materials to teachers and serve as guest presenters in classrooms nationwide. Their wares reach all the more students because the Office of Environmental Education, a branch of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, provides a powerful clearinghouse for them.

E. E. tends to showcase facile, guilt- inducing slogans, such as “Save the Rainforest,” and sound bites, for instance, regarding acid-rain destruction. Pamphleteering thus displaces the rigorous teaching of basic science and those principles that make for true environmental literacy. Needless to say, such one-dimensional content stymies complex reasoning and, one might add, avoids like the plague relevant, sound economic perspectives.

E. E. unabashedly hectors students to join activist campaigns whose goals to many may be not only questionable, but morally objectionable. One textbook, Your Health, urges students to join Zero Population Growth, Planned Parenthood, and even Earth First!, the latter of which has solicited terminally ill people to engage in lethal “eco-terrorist” activities.

Students may even be assigned to lobby government to modify the behavior of their fellow citizens. One reviewer of schoolchildren’s letters addressed to the Food and Drug Administration concerning bioengineered produce concluded: “Their letters didn’t address the scientific or … ethical issues—they were about death! They called the biotech tomato Franken Tomato, and they pleaded, ‘Please don’t do this, I don’t want to die!’ The letters were written all at once and they were similar. I’d call that brainwashing.”

These emotionally manipulative “pedagogies” foster a capacity for controlled and hostile, as opposed to free and engaged, civil discourse. Indeed, some classroom exercises seem expressly designed to inculcate suspicion in students, so that they react reflexively against anyone who even might dissent from environmental nostrums. For example, among four pictures—of a deer, fox, squirrel, and logger—preschoolers were asked to select the one which did not belong. Such E.E. would appear effective: A logger related the antagonism he felt when he visited his son’s fourth-grade class to talk about his occupation.

As Tom Patterson, Arizona’s state Senate Majority Leader, concludes “environmental education is more of a propagandizing exercise in some cases than an educational exercise.”

Yet E. E. offends, perhaps most, because of its sheer crankiness and leaden aspirituality. Even crayons and balloons must be demystified and impeached because of their ties to the brute in nature! In the best-selling 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth, children are warned that oil in crayons comes from the “last remains” of the prehistoric Tyrannosaurus Rex and that balloons, if swallowed by turtles, can block their stomachs and cause them to “starve to death.”

Unremittingly materialist and secular, E. E. is of course unruffled by intimations of God as sustainer and—much less—by God as “Father.” Even pantheism it is not.


  • Candace de Russy

    Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized scholar on education and cultural issues and an Adjunct Fellow at Hudson Institute.

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