January 5, 2012


Let nature nurture the gadget generation: The countryside can reveal to children that machines should be their slaves, not their masters. (Roger Scruton, 03 Jan 2012, The Telegraph)

If you ask why the English countryside has endured through the ravages of industrialisation and population growth, then the answer lies here: it has survived because the cult of nature, inspired by our romantic art and literature, was taken up by a society of volunteers, who had learnt to appreciate their surroundings. That is why wildlife habitats, waterways and public footpaths are still maintained and why schemes for motorways, wind farms and out-of-town shopping centres cannot be imposed on the British people without encountering fierce and public-spirited opposition, as the Government is discovering over its planning guidelines. It is why the National Trust has four million members, and why there is not a precious landscape in our country that does not have a local society devoted to its protection. Our national habit of solving problems by taking charge of them is embodied in people such as Mr Titchmarsh and the Telegraph's Robin Page. Robin Page's Countryside Restoration Trust has encouraged people to volunteer in the defence of native species, to restore wildlife-friendly farming practices, and to set an example to children of the kind that we received from our schooling in the post-war years.

The wildlife trusts, which have been in existence for 100 years, invite children to take part in walks and visits, to clean up threatened habitats, and to learn about the delicate balance of nature on which we all depend. And these volunteer associations recruit public-spirited adults who long to pass on their knowledge and love of nature to any child prepared to listen to them.

This learning encounter is what matters most for the future of our countryside, and of course it happens more rarely than most of us would like. But still, it happens. It is true that many children today live, through no fault of their own, in a virtual reality. Their world is a no-place, which they enter through pressing magic buttons, and which they cannot change but merely observe in a state of passive excitement.

Nevertheless, children are also creatures of the earth, whose souls and bodies are attached to life-processes that they share with the rest of nature. And such children are deeply affected by the encounter with nature, when an enthusiastic adult is there to explain it to them. Take children to visit farms, send them on adventure holidays, expose them to the real world on which they depend for their nourishment, get them involved in activities that bring them into contact with wild animals, and which teach them the ways of respect - do these things and children, in my experience, will quickly remember that they are not machines but living organisms, and that the gadgets are not their masters but their slaves.

Posted by at January 5, 2012 6:14 AM

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