Toward Better Environmental Education

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By Jane Shaw

Tom Furrer, a science teacher at Casa Grande High School near San Francisco, remembered a creek that he used to visit as a child. To help his suburban students appreciate the outdoors, he wanted to bring them there. But when he rediscovered Adobe Creek after so many years, he found it to be a mere trickle, with treeless banks of hard dirt. What little water remained was full of washing machines, box springs, and other junk. It looked dead.

It wasn’t utterly dead, however. Someone had "left">protected a few pools where steelhead trout could still spawn and somehow make their way to the ocean. Furrer challenged his students to build on that effort and restore the creek. The future of the steelheads “belongs to your generation, not mine,” he told them. “You’ll be leading this battle” (McConnell 1999, 81).

His students formed a club, the United Anglers of Casa Grande High School. First, they pulled the junk out of the stream and carried it away in their pickups. Then they planted willow tree cuttings along the stream to end the erosion. Eventually, they started a hatchery that would nurture trout and salmon hatchlings for Adobe Creek and other streams.

It took more than ten years. Some of those students were well into adulthood—and some of them biologists—by the time a dam was removed and the steelhead trout could flow freely. By then, they had created a tradition and learned a lot about ecosystems, fish, and human nature.

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Before joining PERC, Jane Shaw was a journalist who had developed an uneasy feeling that much of the commentary about environmental policy that she read--and even some that she wrote--was tilted in the wrong direction. The usual solution to an environmental problem was to turn it over to the government. She had become uncomfortable with this...
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