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February 28, 2018

Swan Lake
by Anne Spudvilas, Allen & Unwin, 2017

Anne Spudvilas’ visually enchanting picture book celebrates the classic ballet Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. Each Act begins with a short summary followed by pages of wordless, expressive black and white illustrations that convey powerful images filled with emotion. Perhaps this romantic tragedy is also an environmental allegory about the danger of turning one’s back on nature. Spudvilas relates this power of nature, its enchantment, and beauty, to the Murray-Darling confluence where she now lives. This is an excellent book suitable for secondary English, Music and Art students.

All three books are available from Federation Library.

A is for Australian Animals: a fantastic tour
by Frané Lessac, Walker Books, 2017

Author Frané Lessac continues the alphabet picture book tradition by allocating an alphabet letter to 26 Australian animals including lesser-known species such as the Hopping Mouse, Irukandji Jellyfish and Jumping Spider. This book contributes to students’ ecological literacy, particularly important when many of these Australian animals are under threat from habitat loss, bushfires, feral animals and climate change.

Educational Reform and Environmental Concern
by Dorothy Kass, Routledge, Oxford, 2018

The book highlights the proud public education tradition of the innovative and progressive curriculum development. In this case it is the introduction of the subject nature studies into NSW public schools in the early 1900s that played a critical role in developing children’s conservation ethics — so central to citizens advocacy in demanding the protection of Australia’s environment.

Increasingly teachers and educators in late 19th century Australia were determined that teaching nature was a core subject, as they confronted the new era of degraded landscapes, disappearing species and the devastation caused by introduced species.

This scholarly work by teacher-librarian Dorothy Kass describes the influential progressive education movement in the English-speaking world in the late 19th and early 20th century where nature studies was its signature subject and part of the “new education” reform movement. Although nature studies was an international movement, NSW developed its unique version that involved outdoor education, observation from nature, active learning, questioning and reasoning to replace passive rote learning. Key to implementing nature studies in elementary schools was a commitment to developing children’s “loving appreciation of nature”.

The book reminds one of just how cutting edge NSW public education was in fostering curriculum reform, particularly under the leadership of Peter Board, the then Director of Education from 1905-1922. As well, nature studies was supported by enlightened environmental educators such as Alexander Hamilton who lectured at Sydney Teachers College and Charles Musson who lectured at Hawkesbury Agricultural College, along with the many hundreds of enthusiastic women teachers who taught nature studies in the early years of school.

It is interesting to note that Federation’s interest in the environment dates back to its early years when teachers interested in nature studies created the Teachers’ Federation Horticultural Society. The society held lectures and exhibitions and even initiated garden competitions. These events and activities were promoted in the Department’s Education Gazette along with those of the Gould League of Bird Lovers’ essay competitions. This important scholarly work reminds one of just how significant public school teachers were in promoting environmental awareness in children and society. Hopefully this history will be highlighted during this year’s Federation centenary celebrations. The book reminds us just how significant the work of teachers was and continues to be.

Janine Kitson is a Federation Life Member

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© New South Wales Teachers Federation. All Rights Reserved.

Authorised by John Dixon, General Secretary, NSW Teachers Federation, 23-33 Mary St. Surry Hills NSW 2010

Privacy Policy