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June 1999 - Issue No. #35 (p.15)

Learning From Elders about the Environment

by Greg Goodmacher (Kwassui College, Japan)

Studying environmental issues with texts provides students with valuable "book knowledge." Assigning them to interview hometown elders about local environmental changes provides even more valuable "world knowledge." Just before summer vacation, when students return home, I assign them to interview someone at least 30 years older.

The assignment has students compare the local environment as it was when the elders were their age to the situation today. I suggest that students walk around their hometowns and ask the elder to point out and explain the changes. Students do the interview in Japanese, then translate answers into English for their class presentations and discussion.

The answers given by older Japanese make students think deeply about environmental changes because they are learning from people they trust that have directly experienced these. When classmates tell about environmental changes in other places, they realize the immense scope of these problems.

  • Has the population in this area changed since you were young?

  • Are there buildings now where there used to be farms or natural areas?

  • When you were my age, did people gather plants and animals for food around here? If yes, what did people gather? Can we still gather those plants and animals today? If no, why not?

  • When you were my age did you swim anywhere near here? Can people still swim there today?

  • When you were my age, could you see any plants or animals you can't (or rarely) see now?

  • Is the quality of the drinking water and the air around here different from when you were my age? If yes, how is it different?

  • What do you think will happen to nature in this area by the time I become your age?


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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
E-mail: Work Tel/Fax: 0857-31-5650