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Ding Darling, "Conservation Education"

"Conservation Education"

Observations by Jay N. Darling (a speech dated 15 September 1950)


AFTER MANY YEARS in close association with the problems of Conservation Education, I have come to the conclusion that our professional conservation agencies and our professional educators are miles apart and pursuing courses completely independent of each other and getting practically nowhere. I believe that a radical change in approach to the problem is in order for both parties.


Our conservation groups, on the one hand, are producing and mountains of books, tracts, and treatises which for good and sufficient reasons the educators do not and cannot use, and on the other hand educators are floundering dismally in spasmodic experiments here and there in an effort to find a way to teach conservation in the public schools, but largely because of the lack of continuity of effort and because the material available for teaching has to be improvised by individual teachers these experiments are short-lived and no pattern approaching standard methods has been devised.


I don't mean that all of the efforts have been wasted, by any means, but in my own mind the conservation educational problem has narrowed itself down to one definite major target, namely: to get the professional educators and the conservation technicians to work together to produce a ready-mixed emulsion of the principles of conservation with the courses of study in the common school curriculum.


If whole milk can be homogenized so that the cream will not separate from the milk, then certainly nature's laws governing natural resources, which are an integral part of every branch of the knowledge by which we live, can be fused together so that they are inseparable.


At the present time there is no textbook in any branch of the studies taught in our public schools which even remotely recognizes the conservation of natural resources as a function related to life.


No History teaches the influence of depleted resources on the trends of civilization.


No so-called Political Economy textbook, written for the public school grades, relates Conservation to our social and living standards.


Biology, one of the principal agencies bearing on the existence of renewable resources, continues to be taught without reference to the conservation processes which make natural resources perpetually available.


The textbooks for, and teaching of, Botany, the science of vegetation, start and end with analyses and identification of species, and ignore the essential part vegetation plays in relationship to soils, waters, and all living organisms.


So it is with Chemistry, Physical Geography, Histology, Sociology, courses in required reading, etc. etc. All are taught in a manner equally oblivious of the fact that conservation of natural resources is a major factor in our national economy, standards of living, industry, international relations, and, finally, peace and wars.


Thus it happens that teaching methods, finding no room in the already over-crowded curriculum for new and separate classes in conservation for which existing conservation publications are designed, and therefore using standard textbooks which are devoid of conservation lessons, continue to follow the well-worn path of education without conservation. So far there has been practically no appreciable modification.


On the other hand, every year a new five-foot bookshelf of conservation literature is printed and published to add to the bulging storerooms of uncalled for, unread material, replete with multiple duplications, the cost of which has totaled millions of dollars. In spite of the fact that among these existing conservation publications are many very excellent handbooks and teachers aids, they profit little in the overall picture because almost all of them are written on the erroneous presumption that teachers can set up special classes in conservation at will. They can't, and surveys prove that they don't, except in rare instances.


Conservationists are manufacturing rifle ammunition, which does not fit the educational shotguns. 


Our mountains of published conservation material and the public school students never meet. The mountain neither goes to Mohammed nor Mohammed to the mountain.


The American Association of School Administrators (school principals, superintendents and presidents of teachers colleges), in a survey by a special commission, estimated roughly that Conservation was only taught in 1/1000th of 1% of the public school classes of America. Even in those states where the teaching of Conservation has been presumably made compulsory by state laws, the results have been confessedly unsuccessful. In states where the teaching of Conservation is not required by law, scattered instances of conservation teaching have been due to the voluntary and enthusiastic efforts of some individual teacher who devised her own process of integrating the conservation principles she deemed important with the lessons she taught her classes. An overwhelming majority of the teachers lacked the capacity to devise their own methods. Result:--- most of the youth of the country complete their courses of education without exposure to even the rudimentary principles of Conservation which, figuratively speaking, remain sealed up like vitamin pills in an air-tight bottle in the medicine cabinet.


Education without Conservation is like food without vitamins. Pure, cold, unadulterated, Codliver Oil is a little hard to swallow. They say that Scott's Patent Emulsion of Codliver Oil is not so hard to take, which suggests that we need a patent emulsification of the principles of conservation with the studies which public school pupils are already taking internally.


Instead of publishing any more tracts and treatises on Conservation, I urge the preparation of a model textbook in any one of the above mentioned subjects, in which educators and conservationists collaborate on an effective emulsion.


Until a standard pattern by which teachers may find the principles of conservation ready-mixed with the existing courses of study, not much progress can be expected.


The fusing must come in the re-writing of textbooks.


We can't expect to suddenly and all-at-once rewrite all the public school textbooks. However, we could and should concentrate our attention on an experimental text for one public school textbook, chosen from any one of a number of the salient courses of study, and the choice of that subject might be the one which seems to best lend itself to the mixing of the principles of conservation with the standard course, whatever it may be.


Botany, for instance, is generally rated a "dull" subject by the youthful student, but if written in terms of the useful function of vegetation to living needs rather than committing to memory the number of petals, pistils, stamens and cotyledons in order to identify species, the subject of Botany might conceivably be made to dramatize a very important self-interest in the function of vegetation.


Biology is even more likely to be found an easy mixer with the conservation principles, but no study is exempt. History, Physics, Geography, Geology, Chemistry, on down to Mental Arithmetic and Spelling --- each is susceptible to some relationship to the subject of Natural Resources and their functions.


Once a pilot textbook has been achieved in anyone of the many school studies, the path will be blazed for all the others.


School book publishers are conscious of this need and are anxious to cooperate. They have, in fact, at times offered financial assistance if certain conservationists and educators could get together and act as counselors and guides.


Once the pattern of a textbook, with Conservation written into it, is made available for use in the public schools, the problem for both teacher and pupils would be solved.





These above conclusions have been emphasized by two conspicuous experiences within the last year:---  (1) As a member of the Commission appointed by that branch of the National Education Association known as the American Association of School Administrators, which was instructed to report back on "Preferred Methods for the Teaching of Conservation", and (2) As one of the Judges in the contest for National Awards for the best project in Youth Education in Conservation.


The American Association of School Administrators was a hard working Commission and has made a two-year comprehensive study and survey, and their findings will appear in their 1951 Yearbook. They found great quantities of literature specifically devoted to Conservation but found no means of integrating it with school curricula except as recommended outside reading.


In combing over the materials for National Awards for Youth Education, by far the greater proportion of materials submitted was just 'more of the same.’ Books, books, books, largely technical, pamphlets largely specializing in just one branch of Conservation, like soils or Forestry or Wildlife, mailing material on wild flowers and dickey birds, but the Judges had a hard time to find materials that could be effectively integrated with common school studies.


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