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Something happened, back on Earth Day 2009, that didn't get nearly the fanfare it deserved. Citing the critical need to improve environmental education across the country, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced House and Senate versions of the "historic" No Child Left Inside Act of 2009. If passed, it would mark the first environmental education legislation to pass Congress in more than 25 years. And long overdue, I might add.

No Child Left Inside

Something happened, back on Earth Day 2009, that didn’t get nearly the fanfare it deserved.

Citing the critical need to improve environmental education across the country, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced House and Senate versions of the “historic” No Child Left Inside Act of 2009. If passed, it would mark the first environmental education legislation to pass Congress in more than 25 years.

And long overdue, I might add.

“Passing the No Child Left Inside Act is a key step in improving the quality of our children’s education and preparing them for the complex challenges of the future workforce,” Senator Reed said in a press release.

“Environmental education must be a part of the formal pre-K-12 education system if we are to fully prepare students to become lifelong stewards of our natural resources and compete in a green economy,” Congressman Sarbanes added.

The bill primarily authorizes new funding ($500 million over five years) for states to provide higher-quality, environmental education and to support outdoor learning activities. Similar bills died a silent death at the end of the Bush Administration.

Now, though, this might have enough political tailwind behind it to advance it through a new, blue Congress. The primary promoter of the legislation is the No Child Left Inside Coalition (NCLIC), a massive combine of 1,300 conservation and education nonprofits representing over 50 million people. Adding even more energy to the effort is a long list of co-sponsors, 10 senators and 38 representatives, including Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Jared Polis (D-CO), and David Wu (D-OR).

NCLIC describes the Act as a “non-partisan effort,” but that is, regrettably, a push. Out of 50 sponsors, 48 are Democrat. Also regrettably, Republicans have already panned it as wasteful spending and a way to spread environmental propaganda through the public school system, setting up another partisan fight in Congress.

The Act is an outgrowth of the movement started by Richard Louv, author of a best-selling book called Last Child in the Woods, where he describes the dramatic decline in our children’s ability to connect with nature because of what he described as Nature Deficit Syndrome. (Click here to read an earlier commentary about the subject.)

Since the book was released, Louv has been on a full-time speaking tour, and many conservation groups have prioritized efforts to provide more outdoor activities and environmental education for our “screen generation.” Recruitment into most outdoor activities has fallen, as has membership in many outdoor and conservation groups. Outdoor equipment manufacturers have joined the chorus of the concerned because declining interest in outdoor activities clearly translates into lower sales of most outdoor gear.

Louv blames a variety of lifestyle factors for the striking decline in the amount of time kids spend outdoors, chief among them fear among parents over child predators we heard or read about almost every day–even though, interestingly, there has been no increase in the number of abductions, but a spectacular increase in media coverage of those we have.

This result of the decline is obvious. Kids stay inside and play electronic games, watch television or use computers–anything, it seems, with a screen–and don’t go outdoors, even to the city park, to experience nature.

The long-term impact is fewer grown-up children connected to nature and willing to work to protect it. The consequences of this are staggering, and the No Child Left Inside Act is an important step–but hardly the only step–to reversing the trend, so take a moment and contact your senator or representative and urge him or her to support its passage. Yes, it’s extra tax dollars, but a $100 million per year seems like pocket change compared to the many billions Congress has been devoting to Wall Street bailouts and endless wars for the past nine years.

About Bill Schneider

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  1. Great story Bill,

    This is an incredible program and you are right, it got too little of the attention it deserved.

  2. Nearly every parent living with a kid under the age of 18 knows how strong the screen-addiction is these days: kids choose to stay inside because “that’s where the outlets are,” as Last Child in the Woods so aptly puts it. It’s an ongoing struggle to make nature fun — that’s the key, I think. Teachers, parents, everyone these days has to understand that the natural universe (in kids’ minds) isn’t as inviting as the cyber world, and we have to help engage them.
    Oh, for the old days of staying outside all day until our parents FORCED us to go inside!

  3. Does any parent out there have some suggestions?

  4. So Bill, did you have this story in the works or did you read my response on 6-4-09 to your story on national park fees where I suggested you look up Richard Louv and his organization and books? Either way…thanks for the story. This is important to the future of all our open spaces and crosses lines into recreation, stewardship, hunting, fishing etc. This is not a conservationist’s issue, or a left leaning environmentalist’s issue. This is everyone’s issue. I heard Richard Louv speak at an Urban Land Institute conference. This is an organization dedicated to thoughtful development, including both sustainability and economic returns. Not a group of NIMBY’s and not any particular political affiliation. It lends a lot of credibility that a group of developers, bankers, brokers, city managers, planning directors, archtiects and planners feel that this is important enough to address on a national scale.

    I’m not a parent, but here are a couple suggestions based upon some of the work I do:
    Get kids to walk to school. I realize that is the “scarey” part for parents, but organize walking buses where the chaparones trade off along safe routes.
    Work with your cities to eliminate single use zoning. Many jurisdiction have either development and parks or open space. Unfortunatly the open space gets pushed to the edges of town, not integrated into it where it is within easy walks of residents.

  5. The last thing our society needs is even more eco-socialist brainwashing. Besides, if all these kids stay indoors, doesn’t that leave more room for aging flower children in their temples of wilderness?

  6. dave- here’s a tip; count to ten before you hit post….some subjects just aren’t appropriate for vitriole and hate. of course, that is only if you want some semblance of credibility. if not- fire away at will….

  7. Yep, more credible well thought out “no spin” insight from Dave Skinner again.

    I would back off, but for some reason Skinner is intent on denying he is a hack.

  8. Vagabond,

    I saw your comment on the park fee column, and thanks for doing it. I had this story in the works for a month or so, waiting for an opening. Actually, sort of old news, I guess, since I should have done it on Earth Day. I heard Richard Louv and the Outdoor Writers conference a few years ago, and wrote a column on it. See the link in the above article.


  9. Faced with 400,000 acres of county trust land and common school lands burned to a crisp by a series of 4 fires, six years apart, collectively called the Tillamook Burn, Oregon voters in about 1950 passed a statewide bond issue for $13 million dollars to reforests the Burn. Most of it was done by prison inmates at an honor work camp. But, if you were a kid in Oregon in the 1950s, you most likely got at least one trip to the Burn to plant 5 trees or whatever it was. Sort of like logging, and that it was two long rides and a picnic lunch. But you also got a seminar on forests, and how they grow, why we were planting trees. Environmental education. Not a new deal. Or the trips to see Detroit Dam and stay overnight at a youth camp on Santiam Pass. Environmental education. But put forth by people who made hydroelectric power, clean power, and by foresters, a profession now not used by the USFS.

    Kids used to belong to 4-H, Scouts, Campfire, and other kids organizations, most somewhat associated with school, service groups, and churches. In our drive for secular purity, we have managed to kick those organizations out of schools, but have failed to replace their time with kids and a replacement program.

    We have had environmental, outdoor education, for a half century or more. It is just now those field trips of old are looked upon as indoctrination by natural resource abusers. But the litigators of the environment never replaced what they have protected us from. It is a political problem. And one that has stifled education and outdoor fun for kids. Maybe kids are in front of the screen by intent. Maybe they can be converts without visiting the great green cathedral. Or can we call it that anymore?

  10. Bringing children into the outdoors is a laudable goal. Indoctrinating them in partisan politics as part of a mandated curriculum is not. This bill should not even be considered until it is balanced enough that it has at least 40 percent conservative support. The author of this article is ignorant indeed to claim that this bill should be bi-partisan just because it has a partial goal of bringing children into the outdoors. This bill, as it stands, is absolutely shameless and ugly partisan politics.

  11. Justin, the unfortunate problem is that your “side” calls everything partisan and shameless. You are the ones who insist on a “side” Grow up already and learn to at least talk to other people rather than preach.

  12. mtn place,

    I proposed a rethinking of the bill, and a 100% bill either way is partisan and shameless, especially when it comes to a mandated education curriculum. What you you say if the legislature in Idaho mandated a abstinence only education in Idaho? I can guarantee that only one side would support that. I wouldn’t, so which side am I on?

    Also, you can throw stones all you want posting under a pen name, but I write face to face. Friends of mine, who disagree with me on many issues, read this site all the time. I am more than willing to take that heat, are you?

  13. Yeah I am and I’m also willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. I had just been reading comments in the Boise Statesman that were incredibly nasty and partisan so was quite sensitive on the subject. Although my guess would be that I might disagree with you on what was balanced as you might with me.

  14. The local weekly newspaper has a story about the gal who is the principal of the elementary school down the block from me. She has skateboarding as a PE class. Boards, helmets, pads, the works. Even a couple of teachers are learning. This school is pretty much bilingual, and 85% free lunch, but dedicated staff is making it a successful education establishment. I see the whole of the student body go by my house in the fall and spring, walking their way downtown to the park and amphitheater. At least half the kids are obese. She has her work cut out for her. And since I now see cars parked down the street on both sides, it must be outdoor movie night at the amphitheater. Since it gets dark so late, the movie probably won’t start before 9:30, real late for an old guy. I will be counting llamas and emus by the time the movie starts.

  15. I would be comfortable with that disagreement, as long as there was a fair representation from all sides in the final form. I am a conservationist, and believe strongly in responsible use. I tend to be fairly centrist about ecological issues. I would like to see us using more cleanly produced forms of energy, but I think global warming is at worst a fascist scare tactic, and at best dubious science. I would be willing the bet you find the first to be laudable, and the second as heresy. I’m ok with that. As long as everyone has a voice.

    I too post to the Statesman, but under a pen name. I haven’t been on there much recently except Rocky Barker’s blog.