I grew up in the desert valley of Southern California during the early 1990s. Considering California’s very prevalent and serious drought, you might think that water conservation would be a mandatory curriculum in public schools- that it would be in the state’s best interest to educate its community members on how to restore and preserve the health of their immediate environment. In between learning about the Gold Rush and studying pre-algebra, my school would organize guest speakers to give presentations on water conservation. We would file into the auditorium, excited for a break in the school paradigm. During these presentations, the speaker would show us fun, bright cartoon diagrams of smiling children with toothbrushes. “Turn the water off while you brush,” they’d tell us, “And take shorter showers!” These were the simple solutions to securing our water sources and the end of wastefulness. Like most, I didn’t grow up questioning these assumptions; I simply made the suggestions into habits and went on with my life. It’s not that they weren’t accurate or that I wasn’t doing something positive for the world. There were three main problems with what was happening here: the first was that everything I knew about environmentalism (and specifically water conservation) was taught to me within that 30-minute long presentation I saw every couple of years, and the second was that while what they were teaching us was true, it simply wasn’t helpful. It was generic and it was surface level activism. Lastly, it didn’t scare me; I didn’t have to worry about it beyond the time it took to fill the sink for my dishes. The education, then, was similar to putting a bandage on a wound that needed surgery.
The initial misinformation is the start of the problem. It is in the same way that my generation learned about Christopher Columbus as being a heroic adventurer that discovered the Americas. If you are only given a set amount of information that is presented as truth, and never shown additional information or alternative perspectives, the young mind will latch onto the former. I know this because I have experienced it myself, and I have seen it happen to my peers. We were encouraged to bring reusable water bottles to school, but that is where the conversation ended. It was only later in my life that the real problems (and solutions) were presented to me. They were difficult questions, undoubtedly. What about our waste management systems? What about our agricultural industry? What about the companies that knowingly waste billions of gallons of drinking water, for profit? Why didn’t my public education give me these details? Like so many others, the only real information I have ever been presented in an academic setting was once I started college. Of course, there are countless books and documentaries on water out there- but what about people that don’t think to look further because they trust their public schools to give them the correct information, or who don’t have the privilege of attending college? We must ask ourselves where that leaves them.
If the only time allotted to discussing these pressing matters of water and ecosystem depletion could be the 30 minute sessions every couple of years (and only up to a certain grade level), accuracy of the presented information becomes all the more important. Schools should teach their students the difference between how much water is wasted taking a longer shower versus how much water is wasted when someone orders a cheeseburger from a fast food place. They should teach them about the monocrops that waste vast amounts of water and leave behind useless land. They should teach them about our septic systems and about the fresh water that is wasted with every flush of a toilet. This information but might seem overwhelming, but it in fact ends up being empowering. Knowledge is power, after all!
Without accurate information, how are students expected to be a part of the efforts to make real reforms? We cannot reserve the truth of our planets status for those seeking higher education. The urgency of our planets status requires us to give our communities access to the un-sugarcoated truth. The daunting reality is necessary because it spurns complacency and requires real thought, real solutions, and real change.
It’s understandable how telling a bunch of 7 year olds that humans are depleting our natural resources to the point that our future on this earth is not guaranteed might seem like a terrible idea. But the continued half-truth about water conservation is unfair to young, intelligent minds and extremely dangerous. If generation after generation grows up believing these half-truths, no meaningful actions will be done and no real change can happen. No one wants their children to grow up fearful, but fear inspires action and action inspires change. We should implement programs and courses that teach our youth the realities our state. The courses should be mandatory; we have to be able to guarantee the information is accessible. The immediate need for change in our conservation system is dire, and we must start with telling whole truth.