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Environmental awareness starts young

This is Juniper Hill school, at some point in the early to mid-70s (you can spot me if you know where to look). And it makes a strong case for why our formative years of education are so important. In particular for how this forges your later world view.

Juniper Hill School, early to mid 1970s
Juniper Hill School, early to mid 1970s

For reasons that still allude me, nearly 50 years on, we did animals. Lots of animals. Donkeys, horses, cows, goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits...and a variety of other small rodents. Look in the photo, and pretty much every other child is clutching something furry or feathered.

And those were just the standard versions. One class had a built in aviary with owls and kestrels. And yes we had 1 if not 2 crocodiles (caiman to be specific). The small boy at the front with one on a string: that might be a life sized model. Or it could be a small boy with a real crocodile on a string. Next to a goat. I genuinely have no idea. It was the 1970s. Health and safety hadn't been invented yet.

Looking back, the animal welfare situation was probably a bit iffy too (1970s again). But I did start each day feeding animals of some kind, and could identify pretty much any duck or tree you pointed me at. Most importantly though, I left with a love and appreciation of the natural world that has stuck with me ever since.

And there is an important lesson here, given the world we now find ourselves in, and the ecological crisis we face. Academic qualifications are all well and good (we did the book learning too), but if our ever more narrow view of what education means ends up disconnecting people from the world it's meant to prepare them for, what's the benefit? Particularly as that world is being destroyed around us as a consequence.

So, yes, tree identification may not serve any 'useful' purpose, if you see education simply as a machine that puts ticks in very specific boxes, but it is only this soft learning, embedded passion and wider vision that is going to save the world.

And I am living proof that the younger you start the better.

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