Educating Our Children

We are influenced throughout our life by the company we keep, the groups and issues we engage in, and the people we respect and learn from. But is there anything that compares to what we learn from our parents as children?

We can see the way children imitate their parents, even as adults. Children learn habits (small and large ones), beliefs, likes and dislikes, interests, manners, and even deeply engrained ethics from their parents. It may seem superficial at times, but when you get to know someone closely, and their family, you can get to see how deep what they learned actually goes.

We put a lot into the future of our children. We want them to have a good education, good friends, want them to be polite and respectful. We hope they will learn what’s important in life and what’s not as important, and we do our best to help them learn this.

All of this being said, what do we do to educate them about the environment? We do some things on a superficial level — we might recycle and tell them how to recycle and what recycling is; we might be conservative in the use of lights and water and such resources. We give some passing mention of the importance of the environment. But is this a true environmental ethic and are we doing what we should in this field?

Native Americans lived with the natural environment for centuries and preserved it as it was, perhaps even improving it. Of course, there were many factors (i.e. industrialization) that made their living situation much different from ours today, but there was also an environmental ethic in many tribes that was much deeper than what we generally have today, and even people today who share similar ethics do much less, in many situations, to pass this ethic on to their children. We act as if it is a sophisticated, adult thing that is not really understandable by kids. But if children do not grow up with an environmental ethic that is deep in wisdom (which even kids can learn, perhaps easier than adults), it is much less likely that they will have an environmental ethic as an underlying part of their life as adults.

How are we to change our world significantly, if we do not change, significantly, what we are teaching our children?

Possible ethics to pass on to our children are:

1) We are a part of this world, and everything we do goes into the world and then makes its way back to us in a similar way. What we do comes back to us, and we do not get anything without paying the full, proper price for it. If we think something is very cheap and easy, we should spend some time deeply considering the full cost of the thing. We should then consider if we were responsible for every aspect of the making of that thing, if it would be worth it. (This may sound complicated here, but simply explaining it with product after product — and going through the process with them — is a simple thing that even a young child can understand.

2) The 7th generation ethic that has become more popular in recent years — in our every action we should consider it’s effect on people seven generations from now — not the next generation, or the following generation, but several generations down the line. Will creating trillions and trillions of plastic products that will last “forever” be something that benefits people seven generations from now?

3) The world is a living organism. We are a part of it. And everything is connected. We have to act kindly and care for the world if we want the world to care for us.

These are a handful of simple ideas to get started with. There are also environmental education ideas all over the internet.

For a start on environmental education, take a look at the North American Association for Environmental Education’s site.

  1. Marsha

    Thanks so much for addressing the issue of how important a role parents play in the education of their children, and the need to help develop in children a sense of wonder about and respect for the natural world.

    I’d like to recommend the book Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times by Zoe Weil http://zoeweil.com/zoes-books/above-all-be-kind/ It’s a great book for parents who want to help their children to make compassionate, respectful choices regarding the environment, other people, and nonhuman animals. It outlines the power parents have to be role models for a compassionate, just, sustainable world, and offers plenty of tips and strategies, including sample activities for engaging your child in nature, such as the Wonder Walk.

  2. Patrick

    I completely agree with you. Our children is where it is going to start out. We cannot continue to allow our children to think that it is OK to live our non-sustainable lifestyles. We have to inform them as early as possible so that they can really have an appreciation as to why we need to live sustainably in order to make sure that we along with future generations can enjoy the beautiful things on our planet.

  3. Bobby B.

    The children in the picture may be environmentally conscious, but the moment their unprotected skulls impact the pavement they will wish that their education had included lessons on bicycle safety.

    Why add another branch to our children’s educational experience? Ever since education departed from the 3R’s, IQ and standardized test scores have plummeted. Very few “educated” people have the ability to think as individuals, because education no longer enforces the basics, cultivates creativity nor rewards high achievement. Today’s schooling is less about being educated than it is about being indoctrinated into a belief system and being molded to fit with the masses.

    To borrow from Mychal Massie’s July 21, 2009, opinion piece:

    “In fact, it’s the one point he and Hillary Clinton agree on – that being the government is better able to educate your children than you are.

    Ergo, I submit that when Obama pontificated about families doing a better job of raising their children and having them excel in school, the real message was, “If you don’t – we, i.e., the government, will.”

    Face it, there isn’t a liberal worth his salt who doesn’t believe government is better equipped to educate and direct the path of our children. Why else does the massive push continue to eliminate successful homeschooling programs? Why else is the Department of Education so vehemently opposed to successful school-voucher programs? Why are private Christian schools under attack?

    Obama has been angling for a way to expand government’s influence over children since taking office. I believe his message to the NAACP was intended to tell his followers that he has found a way. As I have repeatedly said, Hitler knew, Stalin/Lenin knew, and Mao darn sure knew, that the first step in successfully taking over a country is to take over the education (read indoctrination) of your children.”

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