The Beginnings of an Environmental Educator

When I was 11 years old, I would spend a lot of my time at the local library. There was not really much to do for a poor nerdy kid living in a small town. My summers were spent with my grandmother, while my parents worked, and at the library, which consumed much of my evenings. My family usually lived within walking distance to the library, so it always felt like the easy place to go and hang out. I enjoyed the feeling of being surrounded by books and magazines, despite having an 11-year-old's grave concern about saving trees, and made sure I was able to mimic that when I got back home. That meant checking out bags full of books at least once a week (and then not always returning them on time, oops). A lot of the books and magazines I read were fantasy and science fiction, but there were two nonfiction topics that held my interest: the history and politics of United States Presidents and the environment.

I was very serious about protecting the environment. Not only did I religiously read National Geographic World magazine, causing my interest to bloom into a passion, but I also fashioned myself into an environmental detective who set out to solve what I considered to be environmental crimes in the neighborhood. This one case -- yes, I had cases -- involved finding little bowls cut from old milk cartons filled with chicken and car antifreeze. As it turned out, one of the neighbors wanted to keep raccoons and squirrels out of their garden and that was the rationale behind poisoning them and nearly all of the neighborhood cats (including my own). Eventually, with absolutely no power to enforce any breakthroughs I did have about any of my cases, big or small, I decided to give up sleuthing and focus more on educating.

Losing my cat because she was poisoned with antifreeze motivated me to do more research into some of the negative ramifications that various chemicals have on the environment. At first I thought mostly about how the death of my cat had impacted me, but the research led me to more information about how it can change a variety of patterns found within both the smaller and larger ecosystems. "This is really bad," I thought, "I really need to start telling people!" So began what turned out to be a passion in ecosystem conservation and protection, especially informing others and increasing knowledge and critical thinking about human-environment relationships.

Now, at the beginning, I thought through a lot of ways in which I would be able to do this kind of educating. I saw this as life and death, after all, so it was very important to me. I wanted to convey positive, yet informative environmental messages in as many ways as I could so I might be able to reach as many people as possible. I wrote little two paragraph environmental stories about recycling. I composed a short play that followed a small team of environmental superheroes. I created my own class where I subjected my younger brother and sister to my ridiculous assignments. I wrote letters to people whom I thought were in charge of making important environmental decisions (one of which was actually a letter of appreciation to the folks who published the Captain Planet comic book).

As an adult, promoting environmental education has taken other routes but none of them have been dissatisfying. My plays have turned into editorials. My fictitious classroom turned into a real classroom. My stories have turned into a book idea. There are so many ways in which we can teach about the environment, promote it, and us, in diverse contexts, and express creativity in learning. All of that time spent in the library reading National Geographic World cover-to-cover did more than help catch Carmen Sandiego and her gang of V. I. L. E. henchmen and henchwomen. It created an educator.