Excerpts from my letter in ABT:
Informing Their Discretion
In September I wrote a letter for NABT’s journal that asked us to focus on Biodiversity and Conservation, as a means of teaching sustainability. I began by saying how important it was for teachers to take what they teach seriously because to the impact they have on students. Let me highlight some of those ideas:
I have been richly blessed the past four years with the opportunity to direct the development of an academic centre in Cuenca, Ecuador. I have met and worked with the director of El Cajas, the national park in Azuay Provence and have heard him describe the diversity of Ecuador’s wildlife. Ecuador has four main regions. Most people are aware of the Galapagos Islands and the rich, wonderful life that inhabits these islands. Many do not know of the other three regions and the wealth of diversity in those areas: the western coastal lowlands (Costa), the central spine of the Andes mountains (Sierra), and the east side of Ecuador including the western edge of the Amazon Jungle (Oriente). There are cloud forests, inter-Andean valleys, deserts, tundra, and, yes, even snow. The elevation changes from sea level to over 20,000 ft. It is an area of active volcanoes, mountain streams, and so many features that something different appears around every corner.
There are estimates of more than 25,000 species of plants, 1600 species of birds, 400 species of mammals, 350 species of reptiles (200 species of snakes alone and I love snakes), 400 species of amphibians, and 800 species of fish. The number of invertebrates (especially insects) is too numerous to describe. I won’t even tell you how many spiders there are in Ecuador (as an arachnophobic, having tarantulas in my home makes me quiver), but I think we can all agree that Ecuador is a marvelous place for biodiversity. I am reminded by the words of President John Adams from a recent HBO documentary: “I have seen a queen of France with 18 million livres of diamonds on her person, but I declare that all the charms of her face and figure added to all the glitter of her jewels did not impress me as much as that little shrub right there. Now your mother always said that I never delighted enough in the mundane, but now I find that if I look at even the smallest thing my imagination begins to roam the Milky Way!” (John Adams, 2008). Wow, Ecuador is a country of so many wonders that our imaginations roam. Yet, Ecuador is a country that struggles to keep its biodiversity in the face of progress and modernization. This is a struggle well worth fighting.
The biodiversity of our planet is extremely important. The struggle to understand that importance and to defend that diversity cannot be understated. Clean water and air, soil to grow our crops, pollination of our food sources, medicines that are essential to our health are just a miniscule number of examples and not the purpose of this letter. The purpose of this letter is to remind us of how important it is for us as teachers to help make our students aware of how important should our efforts be on conservation and Biodiversity. How can we inform our students? There are many experts in biodiversity who are also excellent teachers who can help. Mark Plotkin and his rain forest biodiversity programs and provides excellent assistance on global diversity and conservation issues. NABT’s own Dr. Jacqueline S. McLaughlin teaches programs in Costa Rica that emphasize Biodiversity and help both student and faculty truly appreciate the importance of insuring diversity for future generations. Check out the museums, zoos and botanical gardens in your state and area. Many will have programs that support and educate and may provide valuable resources. I know that the Indianapolis Zoo provides lots of educational support.
The imperative to teach for understanding about that importance of biodiversity and the necessity to conserve it cannot be understated. E. O. Wilson, one of our country’s great scientists, educators, and writers, describes the importance of teachers (education) in this effort. The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation illustrates this role of education in the struggle for biodiversity when it states, “Education is crucial. Only an informed electorate can appreciate the value of biodiversity and the magnitude of the perils facing it. Only people who know and care about these issues can bring needed changes in public policy.” It adds: “A well informed, educated electorate is necessary to make the right choices for a sustainable world.” (The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, 2009; http://www.eowilson.org/). It is our privilege; no, it is our responsibility to educate our next generation on biodiversity and conservation. Thomas Jefferson may have expressed it best when he said, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.” Let’s remember then as we begin the year that part of our purpose as educators is to inform our students’ discretion and insure the future of our planet.
So how do we inform their discretion without pushing our own bias? By teaching the science of biodiversity. By teaching the science of conservation. By teaching the science of sustainability. We must teach our students to discern on their own in the future and to be able to discern the “truth” of what they hear.