Educators sometimes give the impression that they are in the business of protecting their pupils from the negative influence of their parents. Schools are sometimes devoted to the project of correcting the “outdated values” that parents have taught their children. That’s bad enough! However, in recent times policymakers and educators have also embraced the idea that through influencing children they can reeducate parents. Instead of parents socializing their children they advocate a reversal in roles.
It is in the domain of environmental education that the project of socialization in reverse is most systematically pursued. Many environmental educators advocate pester power as a contribution to changing the behavior of adults. David Uzell, a professor of environmental psychology at the University of Surrey, recalls attending an educational conference a few years ago where “everyone was absolutely convinced” that pester power was “the answer” to the problem of climate change. Uzell’s own research has focused on what he calls “inter-generational learning through the transference of personal experience typically from the child to the parent / other adults / home.”
This casual reference to the transference of experience of child to parent illustrates the normalization of the practice of socialization in reverse. In the U.S., socializing children through the promotion of environmental education has been practiced in schools for over a decade. The New York Times reports that a new cohort of “eco-kids” devoted to green values “try to hold their parents accountable at home” and adds how adults become defensive under the “watchful eye of the pint-size eco-police.” School districts across the U.S. have sought to capitalize on the idealism of “eco-kids” to integrate environmental values into whatever subjects they can.
Politicians and governments have embraced environmental education as a potentially effective instrument for influencing and managing the behavior of the public. In England one Labor MP, Malcolm Wicks, argues that environmental values “can act as vivid teaching aids in science lessons, civics lessons, geography lessons,” and through absorbing these lessons “children will then begin to educate the parents.” He adds that “in this way we can start to shift behavior.”