Congress: Leave no child inside!

catching_tadpoles.jpgMost of us of a certain age have fond memories of coming home from school and spending hours playing outside, hunting for frogs or lightning bugs or whatever, holding down the secret fort in the bushes, inventing games out of thin air, blowing up model cars with firecrackers (wait, maybe forget about that last bit). But in most areas of this country, you see precious few kids doing those things anymore.  What do kids, and all of us as a society, lose when they have no experience of the outdoors?  We all stand to lose a lot.

Happily, this message is sinking in, and in only a few short years there has been an impressive mobilization by parents, educators, environmentalists, and public servants to get kids back into their natural habitat.  This is because the federal “No child left behind” act, which is up for reauthorization this year, has in fact left kids behind in important ways. Can you imagine, for example, being a kid without recess?  Without field trips? So, inspired in part by the work of Richard Louv and the Children and Nature Network, lawmakers are doing something about it. 

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Rep. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland have introduced The “No Child Left Inside Act of 2007”, which aims to return outdoor activities, nature study, and environmental education to the core curriculum of American kids.  The act would amend the No Child Left Behind law in the following ways (see here for a summary, and here for a PDF of the full text of the bill):

  • Provides federal funding to states to train teachers in environmental education and to operate model environmental education programs, which include outdoor learning
  • Provides funding to states that create environmental literacy plans to ensure that high school graduates are environmentally literate.
  • Provides funding through an environmental education grant program to build state and national capacity.
  • Re-establishes the Office of Environmental Education within the U.S. Department of Education.

kidsplayinginwoods.jpgThis issue is about a lot more than kids blowing off some steam outdoors — although as every parent and teacher knows, that is important to the sanity of both kids and adults.  It’s literally about whether American society will have a relationship with the environment, and what it will look like.  Not to mention the physical and psychological health of kids. As Sarbanes noted in introducing the bill:

“We’ve heard from many environmental education experts about how the No Child Left Behind’s strong focus on testing has led many teachers to reduce the time spent on environmental sciences,” said Congressman John Sarbanes. “This legislation will help turn our children, whose generation will ultimately be responsible for saving the planet, into environmental stewards.”

So if you have been wondering, as many of us have, how you can move beyond your own personal recycling and compost heap and stiff air-dried clothing to have a larger influence on getting this country on a more environmentally sustainable track, here is one important chance — to influence the hearts and minds of the next generation.  You can help make No Child Left Inside a reality:

Take action now!

About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
This entry was posted in Biodiversity, Biophilia, Education, Politics, Sustainability. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Congress: Leave no child inside!

  1. Last Child in the Woods ––
    Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
    by Richard Louv
    Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
    November 16, 2006

    In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

    But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building “forts”, farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what’s to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

    It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though (“conveniently”) never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, “Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!”, at

    It should also be obvious (but apparently isn’t) that how we interact with nature determines how we think about it and how we learn to treat it. Remember, children don’t learn so much what we tell them, but they learn very well what they see us do. Fishing, building “forts”, mountain biking, and even berry-picking teach us that nature exists for us to exploit. Luckily, my fort-building career was cut short by a bee-sting! As I was about to cut down a tree to lay a third layer of logs on my little log cabin in the woods, I took one swing at the trunk with my axe, and immediately got a painful sting (there must have been a bee-hive in the tree) and ran away as fast as I could.

    On page 144 Louv quotes Rasheed Salahuddin: “Nature has been taken over by thugs who care absolutely nothing about it. We need to take nature back.” Then he titles his next chapter “Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From?” Where indeed? While fishing may bring one into contact with natural beauty, that message can be eclipsed by the more salient one that the fish exist to pleasure and feed humans (even if we release them after we catch them). (My fishing career was also short-lived, perhaps because I spent most of the time either waiting for fish that never came, or untangling fishing line.) Mountain bikers claim that they are “nature-lovers” and are “just hikers on wheels”. But if you watch one of their helmet-camera videos, it is easy to see that 99.44% of their attention must be devoted to controlling their bike, or they will crash. Children initiated into mountain biking may learn to identify a plant or two, but by far the strongest message they will receive is that the rough treatment of nature is acceptable. It’s not!

    On page 184 Louv recommends that kids carry cell phones. First of all, cell phones transmit on essentially the same frequency as a microwave oven, and are therefore hazardous to one’s health –- especially for children, whose skulls are still relatively thin. Second, there is nothing that will spoil one’s experience of nature faster than something that reminds one of the city and the “civilized” world. The last thing one wants while enjoying nature is to be reminded of the world outside. Nothing will ruin a hike or a picnic faster than hearing a radio or the ring of a cell phone, or seeing a headset, cell phone, or mountain bike. I’ve been enjoying nature for over 60 years, and can’t remember a single time when I felt a need for any of these items.

    It’s clear that we humans need to reduce our impacts on wildlife, if they, and hence we, are to survive. But it is repugnant and arguably inhumane to restrict human access to nature. Therefore, we need to practice minimal-impact recreation (i.e., hiking only), and leave our technology (if we need it at all!) at home. In other words, we need to decrease the quantity of contact with nature, and increase the quality.


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