As an art teacher, I was recently asked to judge a painting competition for 10- to 13-year-olds. The subject was “Our Environment”. To my great dismay—and that of the other judges, who included environmentalists and science teachers—each and every one of the 300 paintings depicted a dying tree or taps with no water or gasping birds. In other words, the children seemed to be looking at a stark and finished future! While we (the judges) are concerned about the environment, none of us believes the future is so bleak. Is the children’s perception fine as it is? If not, how do we communicate this to them?
That is a very telling experience you have had. Perhaps, in our anxiety to have children respect the planet and learn about how its resources are depleting, we have forgotten to show them the one key thing their young minds need: hope. A way out.
At a very general level (barring fresh and forward-looking initiatives by some groups and institutions), most schoolchildren seem to have got caught up in the gloom-doom prognostications part of environmental issues.
Be positive: Help your child think of workable solutions.
There is, I suspect, something more subtle at work which is slightly “twisted”. Children seem to think that adults (parents, teachers, environmentalists) when talking about or depicting environment/earth issues—expect them to portray “the sad state of affairs”. And so, it becomes an almost automatic, glib response on their part—this drawing of gasping birds and withering trees. Not unlike the ubiquitous sun rising between two hills from where a river emerges and a boat bobs that they routinely produce when asked to draw a pretty scene.
So, I wonder how much of what you saw is real despair and hopelessness, and how much of it is just these kids drawing in a join-the-dots kind of routine manner. After all, most schoolchildren aren’t called upon to really apply themselves and use their imagination in most places, least of all in drawing competitions.
Moreover, the level of glibness and tokenism associated with this issue is so high that if you asked any one of these kids what they personally do to, say, save water, or conserve electricity, or reduce use of plastic, you might find most of them quite blank.
So, in a way, it’s a double whammy. In the way we teach them about environmental issues, we’re actually giving them a sense of hopelessness, as you pointed out, as well as a disconnect from real solutions. So, what we have is children who see only darkness ahead and have even learned to mouth (and paint) the right things. Just talking the talk, not walking the walk.
On your part (and on ours, too), you could perhaps give children more specific, solution-oriented subjects to draw on the environment. We adults, too, need to figure out ways to make children aware of the world around them and feel that they will benefit by keeping it clean and green. And this can happen only if we give them doable solutions, and also sobering forecasts about the planet.
Send your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org