Sunday, December 04, 2005

How Literate Are You?

A new report by the NEETF (National Environmental Education and Training Foundation) has some startling news to those of us claiming to be eco-literate: what we don't know is going to kick our ass (ass = planet).

Usually, once someone understands something they are able to better make informed decisions about it. This new report, Environmental Literacy in America, explains over a decade of studies and research backgrounding Americans' environmental literacy. Joe Makower over at WorldChanging has a fantastic analysis. What's disconcerting is that it's final conclusion is that we don't know the half of how degraded our home turf really is.

One clip that caught my eye (besides the jaw-dropping results) was the idea of "nature-deficit disorder" (oh please let's not have a new pill for this one--I'm hoping scientists figure out the cure for this disorder is a few years in the outback or Canadian wilderness). NDD, as I like to call it, basically explains the pattern shifts in how young people interact with their natural environment:

As kids become more "wired" than ever before, they are drawn away from healthful, often soul-soothing, outdoor play. The age-old pattern of children spending hours roaming about and playing outside is becoming close to extinct due to a combination of electronics, cyberspace, and parental efforts to keep their children indoors and, in their minds, safer.

This also explains why we are the only country in the world to have 12 year-olds that are routinely mistaken for dwarfish versions of Steelers linemen at the local TCBY. It fits with my experiences as a summer camp counselor. When asked where our food comes from, some of our campers (including the 16 year olds) simply said, "the grocery store." Ok, but how does the grocery store get it? "I don't know...they order it from other grocery stores, I guess," said one 11 year old. Yikes. Once more the dichotomy between the natural world and our children's everyday experience seems shockingly vast. All I can say is thank god I grew up in Vermont where I could see dairy farms, family farms and a piece of the process in how our food arrives at grocery stores. And thanks to summer camps where I was forced to spend 4 days a month out in the Appalachian wilderness (ok...not really wilderness but pretty close) with nothing but oatmeal and a tent (ok...we had more than that - but not much).

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