“The sole hope of human salvation lies in teaching.” – George Bernard Shaw
As the child of an educator, I’ve always held the art of teaching in high regard. My mother was not only tasked with raising my brother and I alone, but she also dedicated herself to enriching the lives of hundreds of students through the love of science and learning. In fact, it’s likely that my love and commitment for conservation stemmed from countless hours spent in her classrooms after school and on weekend field trips. My mother always went out of her way to give her students a hands-on experience with nature, whether it was a backcountry trek through Edisto Island or a community pollinator garden.
Education was not the calling for me that it has been for my mother, but I still greatly enjoy the odd chances I get to pass on learning – specifically nature-based learning – to the next generation. There’s something incredibly special about watching a child’s eyes light up as you talk to them about beautiful, rare red wolves or explain the difference between canid and felid scat.
One of my favorite opportunities with Defenders is getting to visit classrooms and share my love of nature, wildlife and wild places with young people. Presenting to adults is great fun and all, but conversing with children brings an entirely different level of excitement. You never know what is going to come out of their mouths – but you will burst out laughing, that’s for certain. Above all, children have a beautifully honest and direct take on the world. They’ve not yet learned to stifle emotional reactions to their environment, and so they LOVE what you’re teaching. And that love is contagious.
Take, for example, Muller Road Middle School students from Blythewood, South Carolina – Isabelle Nemeth and Taylar Burgess. For their school’s student science fair, the two sixth graders decided they wanted to do more than just a simple research project. They wanted to raise donations and awareness of endangered species and climate change. Their avenue? Art! Isabelle and Taylar invited visitors to share their love of wildlife through painting, and each work of art brought awareness to a different imperiled species or habitat. The girls collected donations and shared the cash and the art with Defenders, bringing their project full circle.
Many of us in conservation can get caught up in the big picture – the never-ending slog of policies and litigation, steering committees and public comment periods. I know I sure can. But, as Shaw reminds us, the future of our planet lies as much in the hands of today’s policymakers as it does on the shoulders of our young people and the educators dedicated to teaching them. Just as my mother created a future conservationist by letting her scrappy, always-in-the-way four-year-old tag along on ecology field trips, we can shape the minds of the activists that will follow in our footsteps.