Thoughts: Children and the Environment

One of the students I tutor is in sixth grade. We recently read a story that introduced Ford and the assembly line process in the manufacturing of automobiles during the 1910’s. The chapter highlighted the benefits of mass production and industrialization, allowing families to be able to travel more efficiently. One of the questions asked him, “Why do you think many people were hesitant to replace the horse and carriage with the automobile?”

It was an opinion question so there wasn’t really a right or wrong answer. As long as he was able to support his answer with clear reasoning, I would mark it correct. His answer was this: Because people were afraid of pollution with so many automobiles.

This answer was not one that I expected. From the reading, I assumed he would’ve written something about it being unsafe or expensive. I may not have any specific sources to back me up on my assumption, but I am pretty darn sure that the problem of pollution did not enter anyone’s mind until much later. His answer most definitely did not reflect the values or perspectives of the people living in America during 1913. Perhaps it does, however, reflect the values and perspectives of many children in North America today.

Becoming intrigued in what the new generation thinks about the environment, I went a little off course and asked my students some questions. I found out that my student is quite big on being eco-friendly. He talked about how the school bus cannot transport all the students and many of his classmates end up getting a ride from parents instead of walking, even if they live ‘really’ close. He talked about how he taught his mother how to recycle. He also showed me a picture of the air pollution in China that he found on the web.

I thought it was very interesting how keen he is on this issue, especially considering the fact that he came from China to study. If he continues to grow up holding these values of recycling and minimizing one’s ecological footprint, I wonder what kinds of changes he can make to the world- especially if he returns to China. I remember in my elementary days, recycling was a new concept. We had speakers come in and talk to us about why recycling is important and why we need to do it. There was a newly established recycling club I joined where we helped cut up juice boxes. Now it seems like it’s been fully integrated to learning institutions and the younger generation.

Even businesses are encouraged to consider environmental impacts with concepts such as the “triple bottom line” now. Businesses functioning with sustainable practices and a “Go Green” attitude use those as competitive advantages in the market. Additionally, sometimes choosing to “Go Green” can actually help with the financial line itself. If “a focus on sustainability is to be sustainable, so to speak, it must also be affordable. And nothing’s more affordable — and hence more sustainable — than a business activity that yields a profit” (Don Cayo, Canadian companies go green for profit).

It quickly reminded me of the movie, “21 Jump Street”. In this film, two cops go undercover as high school kids to investigate the buying and selling of a new drug. Instead of showing the typical high school pyramid with cheerleaders and jocks at the top, “21 Jump Street” takes on a more conventional social setting. The plan was to fit in with the popular crowd so they can find access to the drug supplier. To do this, the two cops decided to portray what the ‘cool kids’ were back in their day- aggressive jocks who don’t “care”. It turns out that in the modern high school, the ‘cool kids’ are kids who care about the environment and social issues like homosexuality. Take a look at the movie clip below, it also shows a funny glimpse of the new youth culture by incorporating hipsters.

You don’t care about the environment? That’s fucked up, man!

I often hear people talking about “teenagers” or “high school kids” like they are a threat to society’s future. Sometimes I even agree if I think about the now highly sexualized youth culture. How many stories have we heard about teen pregnancy? Drug usage and overdose? Under-age drinking accidents? First there were the dance halls, then there were the concerts, and even after that there are the clubs. Now there are raves. With the impression that youth culture is racing to the extremes, what about the other side of the coin?

How about the stories we hear of community involvement in teens? Social activism and human rights? The global crisis? It seems like in each generation, the values and things we find important change. Although some aspects of society may seem to be becoming ‘worse’, there will always be another aspect that becomes ‘better’.

I am all for the idea of sustainable business and communities. It’s great to see younger children and teens viewing pollution, waste, and limited natural resources as serious problems. It is a long-standing and ominous issue that needs to reach a resolution through the time and efforts of people everywhere. With the younger minds valuing the importance of the world around us, hopefully large political, legal, and cultural powers can come into play before it’s too late.




3 thoughts on “Thoughts: Children and the Environment

  1. The sixth grader sure sounds environmentally precocious, especially regarding reducing his E-footprint.

    If there’s a big contingent of youth environmentally aware, I have to admit that’s a big surprise to me. I assumed in this day and age most kids are more self absorbed with all the electronic toys like iPhones combined with narcissism enablers like facebook.

    Here’s to hoping the attitude of your student is more the norm than the exception. =)

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