Could environmental education be crossing into environmental indoctrination? Some critics say yes, as schools boast that such curricula simply is teaching children ways of caring for the earth.
Being a “good” student at Western Avenue Elementary School in Flossmoor, Ill., means more than just doing reading, writing and arithmetic well. It also means trying to save the planet.
“It’s really important to help the earth and save the polar bears,” 9-year-old Duree Everett said, as she colored a “go green” sign at her desk.
The students are taking part in what’s called “National Green Week,” organized by the Green Education Foundation. Schools across the country are encouraged to teach children about recycling, global warming and carbon footprints.
“It’s important to start creating habits now, while children are young, because it can add up over a lifetime to make huge monumental consequences to the environment,” said Victoria Waters, president of the Green Education Foundation.
Children as young as 5 years old are told to avoid plastic water bottles, carry lunches in reusable containers, to conserve water and reduce their trash, both at school and at home. They’re also taught that planet earth is in trouble and animals’ lives could be in danger.
While that may seem politically correct to many people, all the talk of “green” is making some people see red. Critics say using public schools as a means to change habits and opinions on things such as ecology and global warming, amounts to environmental religion, because the beliefs of some are being forced on all children. The kids are then pressured to bring that information home and impose it on their families.
Angela Logomasini, from a free-market environmental policy group called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says it’s political indoctrination.
“I think children should not be forced to take one set of values over another,” Logomasini said. “This isn’t simply about controlling litter, like we had in the ’70s. It’s more about recycling, living organically — it’s a lifestyle choice that is being forced on students whether they like it or not, whether parents like it or not.”
Logomasini said this type of teaching doesn’t belong in taxpayer funded schools — students should be “learning science and they should be learning different perspectives from which they can make a critical analysis,” rather than being taught that there’s only one viewpoint.
Many school districts across the country are now offering teacher’s lesson plans on environmental issues. Students in Los Angeles, Ohio and Texas are all practicing waste reduction in the classroom.
Western Avenue Elementary School principal Jennifer Camilleri insists students aren’t pressured to make changes, just taught information that makes them want to change.
“They really weren’t aware of the amount of trash they were producing based upon their snacks and their lunch, until we had the experiment where we weighed all the trash we collected from the classrooms and the kids,” she said. “It was as if a light went on in their heads.”
She said for these kids, the lessons will last much longer than just the seven days of National Green Week because teachers talk about environmental issues all year long.
Several parents at the elementary school say they support the program and have learned “green” measures from their children. They’ve even formed a “green team” to educate other parents and children about their environmental concerns.
Teachers say they hope the lessons from National Green Week will keep being recycled, as students pass along the information to others, forming habits they claim will lead to greener pastures for planet earth in the future.
About 900 New York City Jews participated in a twenty-four hour protest outside the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency offices on 3rd Ave. between 40 and 41st St. in Manhattan, calling for justice for the Palestinian people and an end to the occupation of Palestine.
The demonstrators came in waves throughout the day, with some braving the cold and sticking it out overnight. The action was the latest in a series of Jewish protests speaking out for peace in Israel/Palestine and against the continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip. In a recent action on February 11, Jews Against the Occupation dropped banners that read “Free Palestine” in 5 different locations.
“The most recent crimes of the Israeli government against Palestinians in Gaza has compelled me for the first time in my entire life to speak out as a Jew,” said Nina Felshin, an anti-war activist who has been involved with the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Felshin added that she was “opposed to nations that feel better than other people,” and that Israel was not “speaking for all Jews.”
The World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency were targeted for its unwavering support of the Israeli government’s actions and policies.
“As a child of Holocaust survivors and as a Jew I reject the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency’s defense of Israel’s barbaric conduct in Gaza,” said Jane Hirschmann, one of the protesters who helped organize the action, in prepared testimony. The recent 22-day long assault on Gaza killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and wounded at least 5,000. 10 Israeli soldiers and 3 civilians were killed in the same time period. Israel has continued to maintain a suffocating blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Throughout the day, as the demonstrators held up signs that read, “Jews Say No to the Siege of Gaza,” and “Jews Say Justice for the Palestinian People,” protesters enacted what a day in the life of a child living in Gaza is like.
The protest was organized by a newly formed group of Jewish peace activists called “Jews Say No.”
The election of a “right-wing government [in Israel] will expose what has happened at the core of Israeli society,” said Gayle Kirshenbaum, who said she came to the protest because as a mother of a seven-year-old, she “found it intolerable to watch the Israeli Army bomb Gaza’s children.”
The recent elections in Israel saw the Kadima Party, headed by Tzipi Livni, barely edge out Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, but the makeup of the next governing coalition remains unclear. Both Netanyahu and Livni wholeheartedly supported the invasion of Gaza. The extreme right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, or “Israel Is Our Home” party, came in third place. Their candidate, Avigdor Lieberman, has proposed that all Israeli citizens take a “loyalty test,” and in 2006, he called for executing any Arab members of the Knesset who met with the democratically elected Hamas government.
Police presence throughout the day remained low.
Solidarity statements from activists in Israel and Palestine were read throughout the day. One statement by Nabila Espanioly, the director of the Al-Tufula Center for Women and Children in Nazareth, read, “As a Palestinian citizen of Israel I join you in your demand: not in my name, not with my tax money. After the election in Israel, I believe today it is more important than ever to sound your voice.”
“The unwillingness of Israel to adhere to international law is disturbing,” said Alan Levine, a civil rights lawyer. “International law doesn’t excuse Israel or any other country.”