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(For the week of January 25, 2010)
Conservation Education
by James L. Cummins

When I was growing up and attending public schools in Greenville, Mississippi, my father was a high school math teacher. His mother's sister (my great aunt), Minnie Chesteen, was one of the first female presidents of the Mississippi Education Association (MEA). She was referred to by the press as the "Glamorous MEA President." And at the same time, Senator Cochran's father also served on the same Board.

In 1951, before the first general session of the 65th Annual Convention of the MEA, in Aunt Minnie's address entitled "Education, A Cooperative Enterprise," she stated, "The problems of public education are so broad that they concern all of us and it is time for all of us to do something about them." That was the case in 1951 and it still is today. She also stated, "Pouring more and more money into the state school system does not guarantee better educational opportunities." Although she stated no dollar is better spent than for education, she said the responsibility rests with the community too. I found it very interesting when she stated, "The chief impelling need today is for strength to defend our country. To stress education as a chief factor in national defense is therefore a high duty."

Specific to conservation, my aunt made a point really hit home when she said, "The American way of life is under constant attack from within and from outside of our borders and we must admit it often comes to us in very attractive guise. When those of us who have had the benefit of educational and travel opportunities are sometimes taken in by these false prophets, it is no wonder that some of our young people are misled."

In addition to national security, her statement is also true in relation to the environment – many people are misled. The coverage of the environment tends to be based on emotion rather than facts. Much of the public – urbanized and divorced from the land – has little personal experience with which to judge the credibility of all the bad environmental news it is hearing. The linkage among quality of life and a quality environment is not understood by many people in Mississippi, or this nation.

Biologists are responsible for enlightening the public about conservation. Society plays a key role in shaping environmental issues. Providing people with credible information about environmental causes and effects and practical resource management, gives them knowledge to make intelligent decisions.

We should explore opportunities to develop new approaches to solving environmental problems that can provide a wide variety of valued benefits to society. Education is the key!

James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi.