No Child Left Inside

By Beacon Staff

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, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) introduced House and Senate versions of the “historic” No Child Left Inside Act. 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,” 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,” 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.

And it 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 more than 50 million people. Adding even more energy to the effort is a long list of co-sponsors, 10 senators and 38 representatives, including Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Wu (D-Ore.).

NCLIC describes the Act as a “non-partisan effort,” but that is, regrettably, a push. Out of 50 sponsors, 48 are Democrats. 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.

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 hear 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.

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

The long-term impact is fewer people 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 $100 million per year seems like a pocket change compared to the many billions Congress has been devoting to bailouts and endless wars for the past nine years.