Rachel Carson’s Legacy

It is more important to be excited, than to be filled with knowledge when we are young.

Rachel Carson developed a deep sense of wonder exploring the fields and woods near her childhood home in Springdale, Pennsylvania with her mother. Carson remembers being encouraged to explore nature. “I can remember no time when I wasn’t interested in the out of doors and the whole world of nature….Those interests I know I inherited from my mother and have always shared with her.”1

It was during the impressionable time of childhood that Carson’s invincible love and advocacy for nature was formed. In A Sense of Wonder — a book she wrote for her niece’s son Roger whom she raised after his mother’s untimely death — she describes her belief in the importance of developing an emotional tie to nature.

Once emotions have been aroused — a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love – then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.2

Parents, grandparents, and teachers can engender feelings of love and respect for the living world in young children by sharing their own surprise, wonder, and interest. It’s about sharing the experience rather than knowing the facts and figures! Carson would bundle Roger in warm blankets and take him down to the shore to see the moonlight shimmering on the shoreline of her West Southport, Maine summer home. Or, they put on slickers and huddled together during storms to feel the sea spray and wonder at the thundering waves crashing on the beach. She writes of spiders she “got to know” in woodpiles near the cabin. Carson’s own deep ties to nature sustained her through rigorous challenges later when Silent Spring caused a national uproar over pesticide use, and launched the environmental movement in the U.S. Even when her life was threatened she never swayed from her conviction that damage to nature did not have to be an inevitable consequence of technological progress.3

As parents and educators I think it is critical we pay attention to the message Rachel Carson so eloquently expressed. Learning and developmental theories indicate that we learn first through our senses, and indeed, memory is intricately tied to sensory traces in neuronal networks in the brain. We all have experienced a rush of memories — as fresh as the day we experienced them – when we smell a certain scent, or hear an old tune. When we educate children we must start with emotional and sensory experience. Children of course do this naturally in their explorations and we just need to follow their lead.

References:
1. Brooks, Paul (1972). Rachel Carson: The Writer at Work. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, p. 18.
2. Carson, Rachel (1965). A Sense of Wonder. New York: Harper & Row
Below is a Link to the film, A Sense of Wonder, which I highly recommend to readers.
A Sense of Wonder

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