Suffer the little children

Editor’s note:  This is an opinion piece by the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the NICE Lab, NCBS, or TIFR. Cover photo by Shankar Chakravarty (

by Shannon – The past two days I have been in discussion with several friends and colleagues about India’s human and environmental ecosystems. I have the honor and responsibility to play a very small role in advising our government on how to allocate funds for understanding, promoting, and preserving the amazing biodiversity of India. My role, as is my passion, is to help develop outreach and communication efforts to this end.

As of now, we have been proposing major efforts for those in (or soon in) power – increasing understanding in our leaders, our teachers, our scientists, our college students, and our public on the importance of biodiversity and communicating about it.  We were asked – where is the focus on education for our children? Biodiversity education is lacking at all levels of our Indian educational systems. There is no question that we need to develop knowledge and understanding in every man, woman, and child in this country if we are to truly create an ethos of passion and conviction to preserve and promote our biological resources.

So why haven’t we devoted the largest share of resources to educating our children? In fact, I grew up listening to Whitney Houston’s 1985 hit “Greatest Love of All” where she sings the famous line:

“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”

Indeed, as child in the 1980s in the US, education was a major issue. The airwaves were filled with such sentiments. From Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” to drugs campaign to Apple Corporation’s “Apples for the Teacher” that provided personal computers to schools (with fond memories of trying to avoid amoebic dysentery on the Oregon Trail), kids were on everyone’s mind. I learned all about Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”.  I grew up hearing about the smog in LA and the Great Lakes on fire. It’s a large part of who I am today and why I am so passionate about our natural world.

But today, nearly 40 years later as I read the morning news, three headlines loom over my news feed:


On one hand, we have a rapidly growing youth movement demanding change from our leadership. On the other hand, some of our leaders in power seem incapable of making this change.  So what do we do?

Ideally, we do both.  We need to educate everyone. Those in power need to understand what is at stake and make changes now. And our children need to learn about these issues to become responsible future leaders. But children also learn by example.  If our leaders promote and defend our natural world, so will our children – whether or not they learn about it in school.

In the end, we have proposed funds for both efforts. I trust that our leaders in India will promote this balance. Because I believe the worst outcome is not if India has clean air without explicitly teaching our children to value it, but educating our children about the dangers of air pollution as we hand them gas masks.

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