As a child who had all the self-righteous conviction of a young Ingrid Newkirk and routinely lectured both children and adults on the dangers of meanness, smoking and reading Once Upon A Potty, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on incredibly annoying children who parrot back their parents' convictions while the adults look on in smug pride. The Times describes the new phenomenon of "eco-kids," tots who match around delivering sermons, ostentatiously turning off lights and saying things like, "every day is Earth Day."The Times piece, unsurprisingly, is a cute collection of yuppie-kids-say-the-darndest things anecdotes; children berating their parents for taking wasteful baths or allowing delivery services to use plastic bags. Inundated with green messages at school, on TV, and surely from their families, these kids have taken to greening with an evangelical zeal that allows for no compromise. Often, the bemused parents say, the one track mindset, however virtuous, leads to embarrassment when kids lecture neighbors, or discomfort when they want expensive innovations like Hybrids and solar panels. Of course, what the piece does not acknowledge is that these kids — whose parents answer to descriptions like writers, stay at home moms, "a professor of furniture design," and "an executive with a solar energy company" — are hardly the norm. They live in brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods and prosperous commuter suburbs. I very much doubt that children from lower-income families, whatever they are learning at school, are as prone to pester their parents for such worthy luxuries as solar panels. After all, what the children in this piece are doing, quite obviously, is parroting the essential worldview of their parents —albeit with a kid's simplistic, inflexible and ultimately purer mindset. The parents' feigned bemusement doesn't do much to hide their evident pride in their children's civic-mindedness. Yes, it's very cute that one little girl dries her clothes on a clothesline in her room, or another won't let her parents buy an SUV. But it's a lot easier when you have the option of a dryer on cold mornings, and the money to buy an SUV if they wanted, to say nothing of small changes like energy-efficient light bulbs and "walking to school" instead of driving. These are luxuries. Necessary ones, ultimately, but the tone of the piece still rubs me the wrong way. Look, it's amazing and encouraging that children care about the environment, and their awareness augurs for a responsible stewardship. But it's not really news that the children of wealthy, environmentally-conscious parents have developed a similar awareness, untempered by adult constraints. So much more interesting would be to see whether a similar awareness has developed in other communities, or families where green concerns were not necessarily a priority for older generations. In other words, whether there's actually been any change. The piece touches on some peoples' concerns that teaching "greening" in public school is a waste of taxpayer dollars, especially when math and reading are lagging; I'd be much more curious to know how much time such initiatives are even getting in the schools where those scores are lowest. Kids imitating their parents is not news. Kids being self-righteous tyrants, as I know all too well, is pretty old news, too. Pint-Size Eco-Police, Making Parents Proud And Sometimes Crazy [NY Times]
The way I remember my elementary school curriculum (public school in a blue-collar school district), we spent some time on environmental/ecology-related themes as part of science with a particular emphasis during April, when earth day occurs. It didn't detract at all from math/reading time because as kids, we needed variety. I highly doubt, from a national perspective, that teachers are consistently pushing environmental issues over math and reading. Rote memorization of soundbite-type environmental facts (like "PLASTIC IS WASTEFUL!") is probably easier to pick up for some kids on than the comprehension required for successful reading and math.