Speaking for the trees : eco-literacy in public schools
Environmentally-themed children’s literature is an alternative, beneficial socialization tool for students to learn about ecological issues in today’s society. Literature at school is a free, accessible way to incite a sense of wonder and engage a child to think about the world in a critical and imaginative manner. Environmentally-themed books can provide a holistic approach to environmental education. Despite environmental literature’s potential, it is under-analyzed and under-utilized in the public school system. In today’s advanced technological society, children are spending less time reading and playing outside than in the past. Many books that do contain environmental themes are problematic in their oversimplified messages or unrealistic solutions. Educators within the school system may struggle to find the means or time to fit these books into their curricula. This thesis examined what types of environmental messages exist in children’s stories in the curricula of elementary school classrooms in Walla Walla, Washington. I conducted an ecocritical content analysis of each of the stories read by four different classrooms in order to understand what environmental themes are present in the stories, how gender, class, and ethnic identities are portrayed, and how these relate to environmental messages. Although there was a general lack of literature with heavy environmental themes, most of the books contained enough elements to conduct extensive ecocritical analyses. This thesis also examined how these messages are perceived differently across gender, ethnicity, and age through the reading of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. Age and gender were the most prominent variables that affected how a student understood and related to this story. Therefore, I encourage further research to gain a better comprehension of how environmental literature can be a valuable socialization tool in influencing students’ minds and subsequent actions.
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