When Schools Teach Greta Thunberg Before Teaching George and Teddy
How I balanced the conversation with my kids using real lessons on respecting our environment, using conservative principles of conservation, community, and civics.
Upon enrolling my kid in a New York City public school, I was aware of what was likely ahead: a “woke” pedagogy cheered by the political Left and jeered by the political Right. Even starting at our kids’ preschool, the politicized schooling approach gave clear indication of the leftward bias in the area’s school systems.
So, when my kindergartener came home from school with a completed coloring sheet of a protesting Greta Thunberg -- picket sign included -- I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed. This seemingly benign coloring sheet was just another blatant reminder that the school’s educational priorities and teaching approach are quite misaligned with mine.
To be perfectly clear, I absolutely support acting as good stewards of the environment and responsibly respecting nature. . . while also respecting basic economic needs and drivers that support all members of society. Educators have many ways to teach these lessons (and put them into practice . . . read on) without lionizing a then-newfound politicized celebrity activist like Greta Thunberg.
As an aside, if allegedly nonpartisan schools are going to be putting anyone on a pedestal, a respectable figure to begin with could be a classic historical figure -- one with a proven legacy of productive achievements. For instance, teachers might introduce Teddy Roosevelt, our 26th president and pioneer of a federal conservationist movement which established National Parks and preserved much of America’s natural lands. Or they could introduce George Washington, a Founding Father and first presidential leader of
the very country offering free public education to these very students. His image is found on quarters and dollar bills, and his namesake can be found on schools, around cities, and in the name of our nation’s capital. His monument is at the scene of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” delivery. He’s ubiquitous, but at the same time – given the decline in civic education at public and private schools, along with woke cultural distaste for “old white men” -- he’s fading (or torn down, in the case of Teddy). Unsurprisingly, that introduction to George Washington was never made in my daughter’s class (so we've taken care of teaching GW and others at home!).
Referring back to Greta Thunberg on that school day of “Climate Action,” while unpacking my daughter’s backpack, I asked her about the aforementioned coloring sheet, “Oh, who’s this?” She replied, “That’s Greta. She helps save the earth.” “Wow,” I replied, “how does she do that?” “She made that sign [points to the picket] and tells people to be good to the earth.”
Our conversation continued as I sprinkled in mentions of people who "mama views" as real heroes of the environment. This list includes those who study, research, work hard, take risks, and invent ways to make the air clearer, water cleaner, and old materials reusable. This list of innovators included people of various backgrounds, industries, missions, and political stripes, but with one thing in common: they were private entrepreneurs (e.g. Elon Musk’s work in clean air, Bill Gates’ work in clean water). This is not to say that government or modes of protester communication (signs included) have no role in improvements to human flourishing and environmental flourishing. But as one environmental conservative notes, “the government’s primary role here is to empower individuals, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists to collaborate and come up with innovations. . .”
We walk up and down our street, picking up trash as we lament the litter, and then celebrate the cleanup!
In our talk, I also reminded my kindergartner about the “pickups” we do every so often around our neighborhood. Let me explain: as part of laying the right foundations of virtues and citizenship, I've given my kids gloves and trash bags. We walk up and down our street, picking up trash as we lament the litter, and then celebrate the cleanup! My kids have even made this activity into a counting competition of who can pick up more items. After we’re done, we walk once more up and down our street, this time without bags or gloves. It’s clear how our environment looked cleaner, greener, and “happier”. . . as it should!
At the end of our short and sweet impromptu lesson on environmental-related virtues and values, my kindergartner understood (I managed to keep her attention just long enough!) that simply making signs was not the way to get a job done. (Perhaps this was also her first lesson also on the emptiness of virtue signaling.)
. . . But Environmental Conservatism is Really Nothing New
While this anecdote demonstrates how we address environmental issues and how we react to challenges, this piece on “green conservatism” published in the Intercollegiate Studies Institute puts it perfectly:
“And that is precisely the most conservative aspect of this vision for the environment: personal and communal initiative, as well as duty and responsibility. At the end of the day, if we want to protect the environment, we must take matters into our own hands, by living up to our personal best selves and by coming together with people we trust to take sometimes small, but ultimately cumulative, steps to protecting our natural heritage.”
Reflecting further on how the author addresses “green conservatism,” it’s interesting how the idea of “conserving” the ways nature intends could not exist without philosophically/politically conservative-style thinking -- that is, conserving “old” ways of thinking. For example, on religion:
“Richard Weaver wrote ‘that man has a duty of veneration toward nature,’ since it is ‘the creation of a Creator.’ Further, ‘nature is not something to be fought, conquered and changed according to any human whims.’
The poet T.S. Eliot, meanwhile, saw a clear link between environmentalism and religious beliefs: ‘We may say that religion . . . implies a life in conformity with nature,’ and a ‘wrong attitude towards nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude towards God.’
Environmental stewardship is, after all, thousands of years old and has a deep biblical foundation. Let humans ‘have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth’ (Gen. 1:26), Yahweh commanded in the very first chapter of the book of Genesis.”
Below are a few other highlights of conservative wisdom from the piece, and we recommend a look at the full read here at the Intercollegiate Review:
Continuation of a Conservative Legacy
The first U.S. president to act on environmental stewardship was the outdoor enthusiast and Republican Teddy Roosevelt, who called nature’s wonders “the most glorious heritage.” Conservative intellectuals have long held environmental concerns in high esteem.
The late Roger Scruton believed that “conservatism and conservation are two aspects of a single long-term policy, which is that of husbanding resources and ensuring their renewal.” As he saw it, “the goal is to pass on to future generations, and meanwhile to maintain and enhance, the order of which we are the temporary trustees.”
For Scruton, environmental protection was part of what he called oikophilia, the love of one’s homeland, which inspires a natural desire for protection.
Not-So-Green New Deal
The truth is that conservative principles underpin better solutions to protecting the planet. Many environmental problems can be solved simply by restoring power to communities and individuals, by acknowledging their sovereignty rather than stifling it through centralized, top-down decision-making. . .
Over decades and centuries, these mechanisms have developed slowly and are based on mutual trust, local knowledge, and community traditions—none of which a central government can provide.
This is the natural state of affairs when property rights are secure and markets are allowed to function properly. Creative minds can develop their ideas when they are not regulated and taxed to death, and achieve better environmental outcomes as a result of competition, innovation, and the profit motive. Under a property rights system, those that care about conserving the environment can voluntarily protect the land they love by unleashing their philanthropic endeavors and buying up land they deem valuable enough for protection (which is something that governments often prevent them from doing today). . .
Making the world a greener place should be ingrained in the conservative psyche. Doing it locally and by means of personal responsibility, entrepreneurship, and the power of voluntary collaboration through the market economy is not only the best way to achieve that—it’s also the most conservative.