Impressions of a Conservation Standard


I authored many essays in college. Some were for anthropology, some for that one English writing course, but most were research papers. Eventually, I went on to write a whole dang thesis as a graduate student. Among these, the only essay I have ever gone out of my way to re-read was the one shared below. Long story short (I better keep it short, since the essay is fairly long), I hated the book I wrote this paper on. Absolutely hated it [Figure 1]. Riiiight up until the very end, when I was writing a 12-page paper critiquing it. Years later, I still think about this book, and once in a blue moon, will endeavor to dig through my old university email to find the draft I submitted. The book's commentary, however biased, often rings true and having passed my copy on to another student of Dr. Morgan's, this essay was all that I had left of that semester's required reading. The time is now 2:19 AM (PCT), and I am making this essay a blog post to My Morning Mile. Do your homework, kids, you never know when that essay that took you six straight hours to write might creep back into your subconscious. And, quite like that horror flick you watched too young, it may haunt you... with the realization that some professors might actually know WTF they are doing.

Dr. Morgan, your course was not my favorite, especially after having to debate in favor of building the Hetch Hetchy Dam, but somehow I learned a thing or two. The following essay was left untouched since its submission, during my sophomore year in college. Let me know what you think -no one loves a critique more than a critic- and I hope you read & pass along this book.

Saving Our Children from Redundancy: A Reflection on Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods

13 December 2012

Introduction to Parks and Recreation Policy

University of Missouri

Summary

This book was subdivided into Parts I – VII. For this summary, each part will be addressed separately, including the main themes of each, and the major/most notable examples used. Part I, entitled, “The New Relationship Between Children and Nature,” eases into the concepts which have driven children indoors and away from what Louv (2008) calls “natural play” in the outdoors. Children seeking to find inner peace use woods, creeks, and open fields as the primary scenes for recluse behavior. A girl interprets this peaceful salvation as a way for her to collect herself, to calm thoughts and in the solace of her woods, diffuse harmful emotions into the environment (Louv 2008). She says, “It’s like you’re free when you go out there…I go there when I’m mad- and then, …with the peacefulness, I’m better” (Louv, 2008:14-15). This kind of brief hermitage into nature for peace is the main focus of Part I. The lack of available areas for children to explore is then expanded on in the subsections, such as why children today may not initially understand the healthful effects of nature. This young girl’s view of her wood reflects an appreciation of the outdoors that Louv continues to emphasize is dwindling. Children do not know, or care, where their food comes from, something that has changed drastically over the last hundred years. Louv surmises that this lack of interaction with the natural sources of food and entertainment results in childrens’ disassociation with their natural surroundings. Support for this is emphasized with a British study where “eight-year-olds were better able to identify characters from the Japanese card trading game Pokemon than native species in the community where they lived” (Louv 2008:33). All of this indoor exposure results in the namesake of the book; Louv (2008:36) calls it a “nature –deficit disorder.” Cumulatively, these disassociations and inexposure to natural surroundings put today’s youth at a distinct disadvantage to understanding the forms and functions of the world they will inherit.

Part II is, by no mistake, the lengthiest of the seven parts. “Why the Young (and the rest of us) Need Nature” addresses in determined detail the dangers unearthed in Part I, providing an assortment of reasons as to why this deficiency damages the children and the adults they will eventually become (Louv 2008: 37). Experts in plankton, grasses, and psychology are referenced for their expertise on the benefits of natural regrowth on the environment, and these effects that positively reflect in the health of observers. Elaine Brooks is the first expert used in this section, and she continues to reveal insights to teaching her students of the native and invasive species in neglected lots of land, notably a Fay Avenue Extension, where she regularly tours classes to expose them to the diversity nature provides (Louve 2008: 40-44). The rest of this section supports Brook’s opinion on the therapeutic exposure to the thousands of plants in one’s backyard continuously. Her observation of her students’ persistent disinterest in nature is reflected in the next subsection’s emphasis in a collective loss of observing senses. Intercity youths are rehabilitated by being thrust into a remote village for months, the reason this method works, however temporarily, is due to the general loss of natural appreciation (Louv 2008: 56). What Louv (64) calls a widespread “cultural autism” is detachments with anything not immediately stimulating, mostly occurring indoors and involving a glowing screen. A complete lack of observation, that Brook was adamant to pursue a cure for at the start of Part II. To the extent that a Harvard University professor, Howard Gardner, added to his current philosophy of measurable intelligence with an eight edition: a “nature intelligence” which incorporates the talent for observing and identifying natural things (Louv 2008: 73-75). The implication of this is that such skills are so rare presently, that having them is considered a new version of measurable intelligence. Lending optimism to this rather unfortunate light on the subject, Louv offers suggestions on how to get kids out of doors and encourage them to explore in the footsteps of their forbearers. Tree houses, forts, unmonitored exploration, and the facilitation of all three by parents, teachers, and public policy is Louv’s image of a picture-perfect solution. According to him, these things and the succeeding activities and stimulations they influence, can begin curing kids and youths of their dulled senses. Not only do children generate more creative ways to play in areas that have fewer institutionalized equipment (Louv 2008: 88), but this new demand on their attention has been observed to reduce the effects of attention deficit disorders, a point Louv rides heavily, as it requires children to devote almost all of their senses to the act of creating their own play (100- 102). What Louv (105) calls “Nature’s Ritalin” is this quality of nature to fully occupy the attention of people, without necessarily causing the over stimulation of constant urban life. He ends on this note, reflecting finally on the aforementioned delinquents’ trip to an isolated village, and the perspective it provided to rehabilitate them.

Part III, “The Best of Intentions: Why Johnnie and Jeanie Don’t Play Outside Anymore,” does less to repeat points brought up in Part I, the way that Part II did, but addresses a new element to Louv’s hypothesis. The titles of the subsections alone divulge the extensive issue of nature avoidance Louv believes is occurring and why. Phrases such as “Bogeyman Syndrome (123), Ecophobia (134), Death of Natural History (139)” color the titles with negative and frightening images. Their follow-through is just as sinister in message, with fears of being outside deriving from kidnappings, natural dangers, and seemingly unfounded parental worries (Louv 2008: 120-138). Considering the stressful demands on parent and children alike, the population’s induction to this fear-based mindset is not surprising, and Louv does not hold one sect of adults responsible for the outdoor exposure rate being found wanting. Early, Louv (117) establishes that it does “[take] time- loose, unstructured dreamtime- to experience nature in a meaningful way;” something that cannot be provided easily with the sports, social, and college preparation time calling youth inside to study and practice vigorously structured sports. With this lacking exposure to nature and its sensory benefits, the range of dangers the outdoors can threaten, something worsened by media coverage, can be difficult to fight. One David Sobel is witness to the handicaps these fears generate (Louv 2008: 132). To better educate children on the outdoors, and so reduce this fear that cripples their understanding of their natural environment, Sobel lobbies for classrooms which expose students to nature as a method of teaching them subjects (Louv 2008: 135). Louv (143) seeks the advice of Paul Dayton, soliciting a solution to this self-destructive cycle of indoor, closed-circuit learning, he replies, “there [is] a huge prejudice against natural history …for microbiology…economics almost rule out change, because good natural resources classes must be small” (144). To round out Part III, Louv resolves that in order to coax the growing fear out of the populations, solutions need to begin in the home with unstructured time to enjoy the refuge nature offers, and in public places like the classroom where students may use their exposure to encourage themselves to not fear the natural environments because they better understand their functions.

Part IV begins the aggressive confrontation for the nature-deficit problem. “The Nature-Child Reunion” outlines the core conduits by which society can turn on its heel and correct this egregious human-nature detachment. Physician and conservationist, Billy Campbell, “believes the biggest problems faced by children…[are] the lack of day-to-day contact with the elements” (Louv 2008: 171). This, he peruses, can be mended more easily than other nature-avoidance causes. By presenting nature to children in a light different from that of the media’s portrayal of exctiment that needs to be filled with constant action, children can be shown the wonder, more sublte ‘action’ of the wilderness, finding their own stimulation as opposed to it being fed to them continuously (Louv 2008: 171-172). Public actions to be taken include integrating parks for walking through wooded areas in urban zones and creating the kinds of local outdoor experiences that endorse parents to spend time at parks, and inspire children to get excited about exploring or admiring the beauty outside of their enclosed indoor environments (Louv 2008: 180-181). A worthy example of outdoor exposure to children is Julia Fout. The daughter of one of Louv’s acquaintances, Louv (181-4) uses the extensive inclusion of natural play Julia’s mother imposed upon her to illustrate the positive life skills built from exploration and observation. Julia recalls several of her mother’s instructions to safety and quality observation, resulting in what she considers “hyperawareness” (181) awakened in her by nature and her extensive time spent in it. In the not-so-subtle section entitled “The Most Important Thing Parents Can Do,” Louv (183-186) depicts five key hat rules of thumb for parents that encourage behaviors to recognize safe areas, adults, and activities outdoors to gradually reduce the effects of his earlier “Bogeyman Syndrome” (123). Finally, Louv (192) expands on children-parent interactions while in nature. Stories of shared adventures, useful tips from his son on fishing with your children, and how these experiences can strengthen familial relationships as well as forgo the instilled avoidance of natural play.

Part V has a clear-cut purpose for Last Child in the Woods. With only two sections, “The Jungle Blackboard” functions as the forerunning argument in favor of nature based learning. In order to break the ice for this teaching concept “which has been around for [roughly] a century” (202), the Swallowtail School in Oregon orchestrate classes that “give [students] a break form the electronic impulses coming at them all the time,” says Lauren Scheehan, founder and faculty (Louv 2008: 205). In place of these stimulants that encroach increasingly early in child development, Sobel, referenced in Part III, considers the “place-based environmental learning” to be “a knight in shining armor” for education (Louv 2008: 207). The brevity of Part V comes, in part, from the simplicity of its ideas. Examples of various institutions and their programs dot the sections, stress is laid on the responsibility adopted by those boldly establishing these concepts. A particular example of Joan Stoliar encompasses the results of these efforts. In her Brooklyn classroom, Stoliar used aquariums of trout to teach biological concepts and encouraged her students to track the results of their ongoing experiment (Louv 2008: 215). The enthusiasm of her students inspired them to rigorously track their trouts’ progress so that the class could go upstate to visit the survivors in the proper season (215); this kind of integrated classroom includes the exposure and applied learning of nature-based teaching. When children get excited about learning and seeing wilderness beyond the level of traditional classroom learning, something wonderfully drastic has been achieved. Stoliar and the various assemblage of successful programs nation wide echo Louv’s message of nature intelligence far reaching beyond the immediate results on test scores, but an inspiration for their planet and how it functions. In conclusion, Louv (234) characterizes a “third frontier” where detachments from nature including sources of food and the farm lifestyle, shrinking available space for free exploration, and an “ambivalent new relationship between humans and other animals,” etc., can be combatted with these alterations to schooling in and out of the classroom.

Part VI signifies the beginning of the end in the struggle against youths’ detachment from nature. Appropriately named “Wonderland: Opening the Fourth Frontier,” this part outlines the public solutions outside of the classroom- the ecological compliment to Part V. Inducting into the subject of public policy with an extensive anecdote of Judge Thatcher from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Louv (238) moves into explaining an aggressive reform of how public spaces and opinions shape the demonization of natural play. He states, “This is not only a question of the letter of the law, but also the spirit” (Louv 2008: 239). The legal implications of allowing children to play on sand dunes, “dam creeks and obstruct the ecosystem” (242), and the dangers which may then ensue complicate the allowance of public policy to be conducive to such activities (Louv 2008: 243). If laws are passed to protect the environment from children who would expand their personal universe by exploring and playing in it, who is truly benefitting, Louv asks? This particular snafu in empowering the general public to get out into the nature their health demands can be battled by the doctoring “of old laws,... even new kinds of cities and owns read, where nature is welcome and natural play is the norm” (Louv 2008:244). This passage is the purposes of Part VI, for the following subsections continue to provide support and examples of new city plans and policies. Ruth Durak form the Kent State University Urban Design Center defines Louv’s (245) “Cities Gone Wild.” Durak speaks of how “urban design…[starts] with open spaces and natural systems, to structure urban form instead of buildings and infrastructure,” qualities which do not fight the natural current of urbania but weave wilderness into the fabric of city life (Louv 2008: 250). Reflecting back on Brook’s Fay Avenue Extension, the vacant lot bursting with natural phenomena, Louv (262-263) claims that using spaces otherwise wasted can afford the popularizing Green Movement the opportunity to include “the [often neglected] needs of children” into urban lot rehabilitation for recreational use. Professor David Orr uses his ideal of a “design intelligence” which pulls new possibilities for environment exposure in cities to cure this nature-deficiency; it is not a utopian idea, rather Orr says, “young people equipped with the vision, moral stamina, and intellectual depth necessary to rebuild…around the planet” (Louv 2008: 277). Louv (281) rounds into his final part by calling for his “Eco-exodus” from the stifling blindness we have buried ourselves in, and come together to redesign laws and cities in favor of nature-inspired lifestyles.

Part VII, the final piece of Louv’s widely influential work of social and economic commentary, needs no more a complex title than “To Be Amazed” (Louv 2008: 289). This part uses the pull of nature tied to faith-inspiring interactions. Stories of spending time with his sons introduce the love of family as a conduit for the psychology of aweing the natural world. Carl Jung, Edward Hoffman, a Sigmund Freud are put to debate the use of spirituality in child and adult development, though not necessarily in relation to nature exclusively (Louv 2008: 292-293). Janet and Julia Fout resurface, referring to “nature [as the] seed of Janet Fout’s spirituality,…replanted for her daughter,” lending to the nature inclination of adults to seek fortitude within nature the same way the children from Part I sought the solitude of forests to reclaim their inner calm (Louv 2008:294). Louv (298) proposes that the inherit negative religious implications, rooted in the founding Christianity of America, is “one of the least acknowledged but most important barriers between children and nature.” To construct Louv’s movement of conservationism and exposure to nature, a cooperation of monumental, paralleling that of a religious awakening, must be undertaking. Recognizing that repairing the child-nature relationship is a gargantuan undertaking, Louv (309) retains faith that “we must hold the conviction that the direction of the trend can be changed,” a level of optimism unsurprising in Last Child, but the repetition of this sentiment emboldens Louv’s conviction of this movement. In the last two pages, Louv does nothing to call in upon the expertise of others; he does not quote psychologists and politicians. Louv shares an anecdote of time pent with his boys and adds a sentiment to who they have become because of this movement and who he hopes they –and to assume, future children- will become. After 316 pages of argumentation for the cause, Richard Louv closes with sentiment toward the aspect of revived nature-children relationships.

Personal Reflection

Overall, my opinion of Last Child in the Woods was something of personal surprise. Dense, and rifle with biased, unbalanced support, I still managed to come out of this experience with appreciation for work, not just the message it advocates. I find that not only would I recommend this to my peers, but that I would encourage them to power through to finish it. Realizing how harsh this introduction may appear, allow me to defend myself.

Richard Louv is not a scientist, nor does he behave as one in his book. He does not use Last Child in the Woods to argue that nature is growing apart from children, or to map out various methods of reinstating nature into future generations. Louv states both of these points. This book does not treat the issue as a negotiable assumption, but rather a fact and the ensuing remedies as transitions that will undoubtedly work if the proper level of attention is afforded them. While this is admirable, it lends the readability of Last Child in the Woods to be arduous. The passion involved in the subject is inherent, and not just for the purpose of saving children from obesity and attention deficit disorder, but the latter religious implications. Perhaps if there were more counter arguments incorporated, would I be able to say that progression of the book inspired me. By progression, I do mean the layout and pattern with which Louv introduces his information. To say Last Child is repetitive is to say the Sahara is warm: a wild understatement. Though, to be fair, when one does not utilize opposing input, restating the key points of the only argument put forth is a given. Use of passion in a scientific manner by a California columnist may be forgiven in my personal reflections of a work, but the extent to which Louv claims nature may act as the panacea for post-industrial societies’ ailments is, at times, laughably arrogant. If there is anything be gleaned from Part VI to support this brash statement of mine, it is that even those called in to sustain Louv’s argument have well-founded doubts about the picturesque reality he envisions. Philip K. Howard claims, “Legal fear has infected the culture” (Louv 2008: 241). This is true, and not terribly committal to the nature-child revival, but it calls into accountability everyone involved in ‘culture,’ and as history shows us, fears and superstitions do not easily sway to legal implications when imbedded into the very culture of society.

To step back and appreciate the efforts of Louv, yes, this compilation of evidence is well done. Society does not change over a decade, and since when has going to school for a subject ever ensured the ability to waver public opinion in its respect? Another reflection in history shows us that this is nowhere near the truth. The reason I believe Last Child in the Woods has been so influential is thus: Richard Louv has taken the commonalities of the recent generation and placed the task of reversing the antisocial, virtual –reality obsessed tendencies of the future rulers of this planet on themselves and the generation which facilitated them to come about. He does a splendid job of not holding any one group responsible for this travesty on nature. Even when referring to technologies that target one-day-old babies, on page 65, he names no names. It is not those who engineer these new toys that are to blame, it is everyone who ever was or will be involved in their origins, use, and disposal. Collectively, we have banded together as an American culture to strive for the next, best, and most radical idea; however, to our deficit, the ideas most widely accepted are those that may be purchased or exchanged. If some is good, more must be better. Louv does an excellent job of recognizing this distinction and moving on from it, to continuously impress the importance of solutions. If Last Child was intended to make an impact, not only did it succeed, but it did so without standing too long on any one group’s toes.

A favored section of mine must be chapter 14: Scared Smart: Facing the Bogeyman beginning on page 178. Of all twenty-three chapters in Last Child in the Woods, this reverberates most sincerely with my personal experience. I have, in fact, walked arm-in-arm with friends as a young adult through forest trails at night convinced we were all to be chased and maimed. And not due to some primal sense of danger instilled by our Australopithecine roots in predation, but by the fear from media, diligent parents warning of the ‘crazies’ in the world, and a childhood of only being reprimanded for running off unattended into the woods. Marc Klaas makes an excellent point, “we have to dispel this whole notion of stranger-danger and substitute some other rules” (Louv 2008: 184). Sagely in his brevity, Klaas is absolutely right. Louv runs away with this objective to Part VI, where the safety of children in public areas must be considered before political wheels may be turned in a direction that will garter the most support of the populace. Of the reasons listed throughout Last Child in the Woods, examining why children lose touch with nature, I find this particular societal pressure the most difficult to combat.

Mentioned only twice in the entire book, is a glaring reason childhood obesity and lack of exposure to natural play: crime. Most notable of the two times this issue mentioned on page 145: “They [referring to inner-city kids] associate nature with the neighborhood park, which is controlled by gangs.” City valance is not something to be taken, or discussed lightly. That Louv only puts this in his book twice is bordering on offensively negligent. Dreams set in nature are smothered, sports and community shared with peers is disrupted to the point of impossibility, and –foremost relevant to this essay- excess to nature in any semblance of a genuine form is nearly impossible for millions of children who cannot safely exit their homes to go to school due to violence. I realize that the purpose of this book is not to address and offer solutions to every social complication, but if Louv is going to treat nature-play as the panacea for anxiety, obesity, autism, ADD, and confident spirituality, then I argue that more than a footnote be made in the defense of the inner-city children. When a massive sect of the population, within the appropriate age demographic discussed throughout the whole of Last Child in the Woods, is kept indoors with their video games and over-stimulating, fear-inducing media, more than a couple of sentences is due. I suppose the fact that Louv mentioned this colossal barrier to nature exposure at all is something of a feat, as he does not appear to write for detailed social solutions. Which, I can certainly appreciate since, for the majority of the book, Louv retains a level of solution orientation that is commendable.

Continuing this assumptive behavior, Louv occasionally paints himself omnipotent. Inferring that, as an author, you are afforded certain liberties into the minds of the populace in acceptable, of course. What I found frustrating about Last Child in the Woods was not just the repetitive propensities, but the assumptions that everyone feels the same about nature. On page 157, Louv is describing his own love for beaches, when he dives across a line of assumption is when he says, “I do not surf, but I understand the attachment surfers feel to the ocean, and once this attachment is made, it is never lost.” If this was the only time this assumption that Louv knows how others interpret nature, it would be banal in it’s transgression, again- certain liberties; nevertheless, it is not. Aside from surfers I have personally met, not everyone will so quickly or deeply attach themselves to a romanticized version of anything, and that Louv relies so heavily on this kind of attachment throughout the book grates my opinion of this highly influential work. Which, to be sure, it is.

To end on a high note, Richard Louv has won my affections for Last Child in the Woods. Works of literature that alter public opinion and engrain themselves into the curriculum of coursework do not erupt every decade, and I am confident that this is one which will be quoted and analyzed on par with the Sand County Almanac. If, for no other reason, than it points a finger at any and all who read it, and there are few tactics which inspire action quite like a growing sense of responsibility to the children.

Conclusion

In conclusion to my summary and personal reflections of Last Child in the Woods, I feel the notable accomplishments of Richard Louv’s work speak for themselves. Programs installed with this book in mind have made impacts nationwide, and grow annually. No change as large as this book calls for can be made in any length of time considered ‘short,’ but striving for Ben Breedlove’s “larger urban eco-management system” can only move us, as a culture, in the right direction (Louv 2008: 266). Although there are holes, in his argument, and areas of obvious neglect, Louv does a marvelous job of pushing his cause with such vigor that even a college student with an initial distaste for his book can mange to come out with an improved, if not profoundly biased, understanding of what may happen to their generation. Nothing can be changed sustainably if the underlying causation is not understood. Last Child in the Woods did a powerful job of braking down possible reasons for the detachment of today’s children with nature, and even more thorough itemization of influencing factors that can be changed within a generation, even thus that will take several years to permanently alter. Inspiring studies, ideas, classes, programs, additional books, etc., reveals an ability of this work to speak to people en mass with such a tone as to create action. In addition to segmenting his topics, Louv also had a charming habit of including lists for instruction and application. Not only does this book suggest and state what the author feels is the core of truth to this issue, but he goes so far as to specifically advise on minute changes which may lead to larger changes in his world, and his readers. Only time will tell, but I am excited as a citizen and conservationist to watch themes from this work unfold into American society. I applaud, the Last Child in the Woods.

References

Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E., Moore, K., Anderson, M., Soderlund, L., & Brizee, A. (2010, May 5). General format. Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/

Richard, Louv. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Incorporated.

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