Saturday, January 07, 2012

On Children and the Environment

This is Thary Gazi, an ecologist in the making and perhaps one of the most brilliant minds of his generation, of my generation.

This picture was taken immediately after a rather nasty slip on muddy, slippery, somewhat thorny, and rather steep terrain. It looks nothing of the sort here, because photographs—even the most raw—have a sanitised quality about them. We are so inoculated against the horrors of the world that not even massacre and grotesqueness offends us anymore.

But it was certainly treacherous terrain—treacherous enough to cause him to slip again some 30 minutes later, this time slitting a finger on the blade of his parang.

In their excellent book As If the Earth Matters, authors Thom Henley and Kenny Peavey write about ways to introduce children to the environment. They say:

It is important that [immersion in nature] be comfortable and enjoyable in the early stages in order to promote further exploration. Later, it becomes an opportunity to expand the 'comfort zone' once the individual has developed the self-confidence and skills to push their limits.

There was nothing comfortable and enjoyable about hacking our way through that forest, and push our limits we certainly did.

* * *

At a neighbour's open house this evening, I noticed that there were four widescreen television sets in the house, and not quite enough bookshelves.

Which makes me wonder about the present generation. I think children—especially urban children—are generally divided into two categories:those who cannot live without digital/modern conveniences, and those who are convinced that there must be something more in the world 'out there'.

But this is not to say that rural kids are more aware. The generation of politicians and business magnates who plunder our natural environments, most certainly grew up with a lot less in the way of 'digital (in)conveniences', most certainly grew up surrounded by a lot more nature. The difference is this: they don't care. And you can be sure to find people who don't give a damn in the country as sure as you will find them in the city.

What I believe is that teaching children to care for the environment calls for a certain type of imagination on the child's part: in an information-saturated age, there seems to be less and less need for the child to imagine, for the child to come to terms with real things, to work out solutions on his or her own.

With Thary, and with myself, I think we grew up in quite positively urban environments, surrounded by the subconscious knowledge that science had figured many things—maybe even everything for all we knew—out, and yet... we must've felt there was something more. That there were still unturned stones in the forest, still unearthed secrets beneath river beds, still mysteries in the deep blue sea.

I am quite convinced that, if we can bring about this realisation, this sense of mystery and wonder in children, we shall not be on the wrong track.

No comments: