Ingredients for ecological literacy: is a “good news diet” of hope and resilience essential?

Writers Paul Hawken and Frances Moore Lappe share a belief in the resilience of the human spirit and the power of human creativity to build a new world. They gather evidence pointing to the changes already underway. These are mostly out of the public eye because they are not hard news—the latest reports of destruction, conflict, machinations in the business and political realms. Hawken and Lappe are saying that if we are to persuade more and more people to see the world in eco-friendly terms, it is a mistake to focus mainly on the damage to people and earth’s systems.  We need a “good news diet” (Lappe) as a supplement to what we see on the TV or read in the paper or on the Internet. And also as a source of motivation.

Where do we find food for that good news diet? Some of the most vivid good news exists in nature itself. Nature’s resilience can sometimes counter the damage being wrought and thus is itself a source of hope. Here’s the best part: schools are uniquely placed to deliver this news on a regular basis! The wonders of nature need to take their rightful place in school curriculum alongside both the wonders of human ingenuity (some of which springs from nature as teacher) and news of the sorry results of human impact on the environment.

Jane Goodall’s web-based high school curriculum Lessons for Hope explores resilience in both humans and nature in Unit 4 of the Student Journal, linking people and the planet and describing her own way of getting through hard times.

We can deepen our ecological literacy by making the most of these learning opportunities. When nature is understood as made up of living systems that we interact with, and sometimes disrupt, it is a monumental story of design in action—and reaction. “How nature works” in our EcoSchools Certification Toolkit distills earth science principles. It’s really the science part of ecological literacy.

It’s a start, but it isn’t enough. What resources would be most helpful for busy teachers fulfilling the demands of a crowded curriculum? Short vignettes that delve into Nature’s big story? Is anyone currently using David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things series with good results? Which segments? What else? Can these resources animate more than science education?  Do visual resources as part of web-based learning have a special role in engaging students in becoming more ecologically literate? Share your thoughts and findings—write to us.                                                                                                 -E.D.

P.S.  David Suzuki and Holy Dressel teamed up a decade ago to write Good News for a Change: Hope for a Troubled World (2002) and a year later More Good News (2003). And these are only two of many such books.

P.P.S. For a heady analysis of resilience as the chief characteristic of sustainability, dip into David Orr’s short essay “Security, Resilience and Community.”