What is OUR Silent Spring?

Not long after the world bid farewell to 2012, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education to attend the annual Dick James Lecture. The James lecture annually brings leading environmental voices to the Center to discuss cutting-edge environmental issues. This year's presenter was Ken Finch, the President and Founder of Green Hearts Inc., one of the country’s first non-profit conservation organizations entirely dedicated to restoring and strengthening the bonds between children and nature.

 Gail Farmer, Director of Education at the Schuylkill Center had the honor of opening the evening and offered a stirring introduction. Her words struck me enough that I asked her for permission to share them through the ObjectIDEA blog. Having been granted that permission I offer you this transcript of her words of reflection, inspiration, and admiration for the work of Rachel Carson and Ken Finch:


Good Evening.

2012 was the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s

Silent Spring

– a book that grabbed her generation by the lapels and pulled them back to earth from the post WWII high of scientific progress through chemical engineering. The notion of “better living through chemistry” was exciting and cutting-edge in her time. People were understandably enamored with the potential impacts chemical pesticides and herbicides could have on humanity – increasing global food production, suppressing insect-borne diseases like typhus and malaria. The creators of DDT won the Nobel prize; that is how excited people were about innovations in chemical engineering! Sometimes, in our forward thinking, it is really hard to stop, reflect, and contemplate what we may be sacrificing as we gain new technologies. What was so powerful about Silent Spring was that Carson’s message was so simple; so reasonable. She said, wait – let’s think about this. We know how these chemical pesticides and herbicides help us – but they hurt us too. Silent Spring forced us to look away from the light of progress for a moment and look in the shadows as well, so that we could move forward more wisely.

[The Schuylkill Center] had a book club discussion of Silent Spring last fall in honor of the anniversary and someone asked: “What is the Silent Spring of our time?” It’s such a great question. 

Just as one of the cutting-edge, scientific innovations of Carson’s time was chemical engineering, ours is unquestionably digital technology. Just as Silent Spring jump-started a national conversation about the health and environmental impacts of the broad application of the products of chemical engineering, so has Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods jump started a national discussion about how in an increasingly digital world our children are becoming increasingly alienated from the natural one. Louv’s book made us stop and look away from the light for a moment to contemplate what we stand to lose as our children spend increasingly more time indoors, looking at screens. This is one of the big issues of our time. Just as Silent Spring gave a voice and a comprehensive synthesis of the work and ideas of other environmental leaders and scientists of her time, so too does Louv’s book. And I am so pleased to introduce you to one of those pioneering leaders in the children and nature movement – Ken Finch.

Ken has worked in environmental education since 1974. During his long career, Ken has been a front-line educator in environmental education programs, worked as a senior manager in two children's museums, led two of the country's largest nature centers, and served as a Vice President of the National Audubon Society. Within the environmental education community he has really been a pioneer and a leader in the movement to return free play in nature to the lives of young children. Ken was the first person to widely introduce the value of nature play to the nature center profession, beginning with a national conference presentation in 2003, 2 years before Last Child in the Woods was published. In 2005 Ken founded The Green Hearts Institute for Nature and Childhood, the first nonprofit conservation organization in the US dedicated to restoring and strengthening the bonds between children and nature. Through Green Hearts, Ken has over 100 presentations to diverse audiences about the value and power of nature play. He has more than two dozen publications about nature play and implementation strategies for it, in wide and free distribution. Green Hearts’ website has become a “go-to” source for succinct overviews of nature play for families and educators. I have visited it myself, many times.

Ken has worked with nature centers, parks and schools across the country, helping them understand the value of free play in nature and developing programs and infrastructure that support it. In Pennsylvania he has worked with Safenet Domestic Shelter in Erie, with the Pennsylvania State Parks system to produce a business plan for creating nature preschools in urban state parks and he has worked with Briar Bush Nature Center in Abington, PA. Please join me in enthusiastically welcoming Ken to the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.