Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Toys"R"Us vs Environmental Education

When I was told about the new Toys"R"Us commercial by one of my students today I thought they had to have been mistaken. They informed me that Toys"R"Us basically said (without words) that learning about nature is boring and kids receive no joy from it.

I immediately said "what? I highly doubt that."

My student insisted that I pull the commercial up onto my computer and watch it. So I did... and this is what I saw...

I am an environmental educator at heart and practice. I thrive on people's enthusiasm towards experiential learning in nature. I've provided outdoor, educational, nature based events for children between the ages of 3 and 83, of all backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and interest levels for over 8 years. From these experiences I can state one thing... the vast, vast, vast majority of people love environmental education. I've witnessed maybe 5-6 people of the hundreds I have taught who wouldn't hop into a stream with a dip net to collect macro invertebrates to understand water quality. Even individuals who freak out when you pull a snake from under a log to talk about thermoregulation end up saying it was one of the coolest experiences of their life (obviously... there are some people who are highly phobic to specific aspects of nature and as an educator we remove them from the situation if needed until it is safe).

 Environmental education has the ability to reconnect our disconnected youth with what matters most... care taking and understanding our planet.

That being said, I have witnessed horrible "environmental education" programs where the educators acted more like the actor in this commercial playing "name that leaf" game.

I think the absolute WORST thing about this commercial is that this group of kids is (supposedly) an actual group of disadvantaged children. I've worked with children like this before. I've worked with children that didn't know FROGS existed. These children should be attending a good environmental education program because it would probably change so many of their lives. I've seen good environmental programs change the lives of so many children of all backgrounds.

Does this commercial bash the idea of environmental education? I'll let you decide. For me... I think it was probably made in good faith, but could potentially leave a poor imprint of the importance of toys over nature on young-impressionable minds (is that me being too idealistic? maybe). I think it probably should have never hit people's television set. I'm not sure how the commercial made it past trial runs because there is a lot of backlash within the general public.

There are multiple petitions out there looking for Toys"R"Us to pull their add. There are some that are actually looking for Toy"R"Us to back and fund an environmental education program/identity. They aren't hard to find if you google for them... but here is one of the main ones.

While conducting an environmental education event
 at Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, NY with a group of inner-city youth,
I had to tussle with a bowfin and got quite a reaction.
Photo by: David Lassman/Post Standard

Want to read a news release about the program pictured above? Find it here.

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