“I wanna teach the class about dead things” he says simply.
“Fine” I say.
Fuck, I think. This is going to go down like a lead balloon.
People do not like bugs and they do not like dead things. They particularly don’t like dead bugs.
When I was the same age as my son, I took my favorite critter into Kindergarten, to the show-and-tell. It was a fairly large, and very live, Florida cockroach (Eurycotis floridana), otherwise known as a Palmetto bug. Everyone screamed, the cockroach was killed, I cried, and the teacher told my mother that something was seriously wrong with her child.
That experience has stayed with me for nearly 40 years. It was one of those earth-shattering moments when you realize that you are in fact, a weirdo with no friends.
Not wanting my son to suffer a similar trauma, I say: “Maybe we should check in with the Teacher before we bring the dead things to school sweetie?”
He thinks about it, shakes his head, looks me in the eye: ”Don’t worry, mama. S’Ok.”
Sigh. I look into his trusting little face. I want to believe him, but I know that it’s not OK. Not at all. We live in a culture of ecophobia, hell-bent on destroying the biodiversity of the planet, making it safe and sterile for all. No more bugs! No more snakes! No more disease-carrying rodents!
The ecological literacy of our culture is at an all-time low. And it begins with our schools.
When I attended the recent open house at the nearby Waldorf School, a pocket gopher popped its head up in the middle of our parents circle while we were touring the outdoor play area. Several of the parents stepped back in fear, and one mother asked “is that a rat?!” Other parents seemed very concerned that rodents were sharing the campus, so the Waldorf leader quickly assured everyone that children’s interactions with local wildlife were actively discouraged.
Definitely not the sort of school I want my child to attend.
I’ve worked hard to make sure my son respects and loves the natural world. He knows that everything has it’s place, and everything is connected to everything else. I’ve raised him to examine (and sometimes process) dead animals, and to conduct live animal rescue operations that support the local wildlife rehabilitation center. It’s only natural that he now he wants to educate “the people” about bugs and road kill.
He’s a budding naturalist, about to get squashed by the state education system. The Deep Nature Disconnect starts here. In our schools. The good news is that schools also have the potential to reverse this process, to foster deep nature connection and ecological literacy in the minds and hearts of the children, the teachers, the staff and the parents.
I know that it’s possible to bring ecological literacy into our local schools. There are organizations and people out there that are dedicated to this work. For example, the Center for Ecoliteracy. But the question stands: is it enough, and is it in time? Furthermore: is it funded? Because if it isn’t supported by love, commitment and money, then we don’t have a prayer in getting this culture to shift from ecocide to ecoliteracy.
My son has only been in the school system for 3 days. I could pull him out of there and forage with him in the feral, nature-based unschooling paradigm. Or I could work to change the school system from within, or even set up a new school with ecological education in its core. I could be part of the solution to make sure as many kids, teachers, and parents develop a deep respect of nature, and understand the basic principles of ecology, because at this point, it’s a matter of survival.
My dream is that there are enough people out there that care, with enough resources to make things happen, and that together we can make the shift to a more sustainable and sane way of life, before it is too late.