The Silent Killer: Ecology Lessons with Rachel Carson

Ecology Lessons with Rachel Carson @EvaVarga.netThis post contains affiliate links.

Marine biologist and author Rachel Carson, whose writing on pesticides helped to launch the modern environmental movement, was born on 27th of May in 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania. Carson published her famous work Silent Spring in 1962 which documented the dangers of indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides, especially on bird populations. Though its publication was met with strong opposition from the chemical industry, the scientific community largely supported her conclusions. Silent Spring also served as a rallying point for the young environment movement just gaining momentum at the time of its publication.

In nature nothing exists alone.

The book fueled public interest in environmental and public health issues and, within a few years, the Nixon Administration formed the Environmental Protection Agency. Much of the EPA’s early work focused on issues raised by Carson’s work such as a 1972 law regulating pesticides and a US ban on the agricultural use of DDT.

Biography

Rachel CarsonRachel grew up in a tiny, wooden house with no electricity, heat or plumbing. As a young girl, she was fascinated with the outside world. She spent a great deal of time in the woods and beside streams learning the names of birds, insects, and flowers.

Rachel’s best friend was her mother, Maria Carson, with whom she enjoyed taking long walks with in their nearby woods. Maria had been a teacher before she married and she taught Rachel the names of plants, birds, insects, and animals they encountered. It didn’t take long before Rachel was able to identify dozens of wild things.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find resources of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

In Rachel’s second year of college, she took a biology course that sparked her interest in this area. She graduated from college with honors and decided to specialize in Marine Biology- the study of animal life in the ocean. In 1929, she won a full scholarship to John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland to obtain her graduate degree in this field of study.

After graduating from Johns Hopkins in 1932 (MA in Zoology), she began a career in the federal service as a scientist and editor and rose to become Editor-in-Chief of all publications for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In addition to the well known Silent Spring, she wrote several other articles designed to teach people about the wonder and beauty of the living world, including “Help Your Child to Wonder,” (1956) and “Our Ever-Changing Shore” (1957). Woven throughout her writing was the view that human beings were but one part of nature distinguished primarily by their power to alter it, in some cases irreversibly.

Man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.

Rachel Carson died in 1964 after a long battle against breast cancer. Her witness for the beauty and integrity of life continues to inspire new generations to protect the living world and all its creatures.

Ecology Lessons with Rachel Carson @EvaVarga.netBring It Home

With Rachel Carson as a guide, students can learn how environmental concerns affect their lives and community. High students should be encouraged to read Silent Spring. Middle school students may be more comfortable reading selected chapters; I recommend the first chapter “A Fable for Tomorrow,” which can be previewed online. [Tip: Do a search on the chapter title to find the full text, which is available from various sources.]

  • Read a biography:
  • Watch the compelling documentary film American Experience: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring
  • Have the students write a short story about how they think the world will change in the next ten years.
  • Ask students how they perceive our oceans being polluted today and let them come up with ways we can contribute to the efforts of protecting our sea life.
  • Have students research the toxic effects of DDT on the body, where it might be used today, and what alternatives can be used in its place.
  • Ask students to make a booklet on ways to live that can reduce an individual’s impact on the environment. Examples of subjects include saving water, gardening, cleaning and maintenance around the house, your car, renewable energy, air pollution, and the environmentally aware consumer.
  • Interview a person who has lived in the community for 30 years or longer. Suggested questions might include:
    • How has our community’s environment changed over the time you have lived here?
    • What was the environment of our community like when you first lived here?
    • What changes made the greatest impact on the environment?
    • Have the changes been for the better? Why do you feel this way?
    • In retrospect, compare the benefits and detriments of the impact of people on the land.

What about us? Can we avoid the “silent spring” that Carson predicted? In the 53 years since Silent Spring first appeared, people have grown far more aware of our impact on the environment. But we still use many potentially deadly chemicals.”There remains, in this space-age universe,” wrote Rachel Carson, “the possibility that man’s way is not always best.” We would do well to remember her warning.

Science Milestones

The Art of Dr Seuss: What We Can Learn from Him

We recently had an opportunity to see an exhibit of Dr Seuss’ artwork. The exhibit has been in the area for a while but I purposely timed it so that we would see it on his birthday.  The exhibit was very interesting & informative.  If you aren’t a Seuss fan … I would be willing to bet you might become one after seeing more of his work.

What I liked about this exhibit is that it was laid out similar to a time-line and as you walked through, you were able to get a sense of how his career evolved over time.  In anticipation of attending this exhibit, we had read The Boy on Fairfield Street by Kathleen Krull so we were versed on his advertising career.  I found these two advertisements particularly intriguing. What struck us was how different the times were even 70 years ago.  That people would consider gurgling with chemicals laced with DDT just as people would brush their teeth with Radon in the days of Madam Curie.

The other work that fascinated me was his creative taxidermy sculptures.  The book, The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss features eight of his sculptures and since its publication, an addition nine ‘lost sculptures’ have since been identified.  Ted Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, treasured his taxidermy artworks and found a number of ways to use them in various projects throughout the 1030s and 40s.

Dr Seuss Flying Herring

Flying Herring – Hand-painted cast resin, recast from 1930s original

Dr Seuss Sawfish

Sawfish – Hand-painted cast resin, recast from 1930s original

I have shown two of my favorites here.  In the next week, we will be exploring this topic for fully as I pull out the polymer clays and do a mini-lesson on animal adaptations with the munchkins.  I encourage you to join us … it would be fun to see all the crazy Seuss inspired critters we can create. Please post a link in the comments if you want to play along and I’ll include a link to your post in our follow-up.  🙂

“If you never did, you should.
These things are fun, and fun is good.”
~ Dr. Seuss

Surprisingly, Buddy was very much interested in the life-size sculptures.  Most were cast in bronze but one was in stainless steel.  He asked for his picture taken at each one.  I’ve selected to share The Lorax (Classic Seuss) in honor of the movie that was released this weekend.

Edited 3 March 2017 :: One of the things the exhibit touched upon was that Seuss was kind of a racist. I was recently reminded of this when an article was shared on social media detailing flyers kids made to protest “Dr Seuss Week” at their school.

I admire the gumption of the kids who made these posters. I believe it is important to know this history. Dr. Seuss is such a revered figure in our society, a staple of children’s literature. Schools and libraries across the country honor his work annually.

How do we move away from false heroes and saints and acknowledge people’s faults alongside their accomplishments? We can utilize his work as an opportunity to have a discussion with our students about the history of racism in the U.S. and to humanize Dr. Seus. Our heroes are not infallible. People learn and grow and change for the better.