In 1962 Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring which many say was the incentive for various environmental movements. Her book warned people about the dangers of spraying synthetic pesticides indiscriminately. Today, on the 50th anniversary of Carson’s book, there are people who still find fault with her work, and those who refer to Silent Spring and Rachel Carson as a blessing from the “nun of nature.”
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post With Answer Key.
Excerpt: How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental Movement By Eliza Griswold New York Times
“On June 4, 1963, less than a year after the controversial environmental classic Silent Spring was published, its author, Rachel Carson, testified before a Senate subcommittee on pesticides. She was 56 and dying of breast cancer. She told almost no one. She’d already survived a radical mastectomy. Her pelvis was so riddled with fractures that it was nearly impossible for her to walk to her seat at the wooden table before the Congressional panel. To hide her baldness, she wore a dark brown wig… Silent Spring presents a view of nature compromised by synthetic pesticides, especially DDT. Once these pesticides entered the biosphere, Carson argued, they not only killed bugs but also made their way up the food chain to threaten bird and fish populations and could eventually sicken children… If anything, environmental issues have grown larger — and more urgent — since Carson’s day. Yet no single work has had the impact of Silent Spring. It is not that we lack eloquent and impassioned environmental advocates with the capacity to reach a broad audience on issues like climate change. Bill McKibben was the first to make a compelling case, in 1989, for the crisis of global warming in The End of Nature. Elizabeth Kolbert followed with Field Notes From a Catastrophe. Al Gore sounded the alarm with An Inconvenient Truth, and was awarded the Nobel Prize.
They are widely considered responsible for shaping our view of global warming, but none was able to galvanize a nation into demanding concrete change in quite the way that Carson did. What was it that allowed Carson to capture the public imagination and to forge America’s environmental consciousness?
Saint Rachel, “the nun of nature,” as she is called, is frequently invoked in the name of one environmental cause or another, but few know much about her life and work. People think she came out of nowhere to deliver this Jeremiad of Silent Spring, but she had three massive best sellers about the sea before that, McKibben says. She was Jacques Cousteau before there was Jacques Cousteau…Silent Spring was more than a study of the effects of synthetic pesticides; it was an indictment of the late 1950s.
Humans, Carson argued, should not seek to dominate nature through chemistry, in the name of progress. In Carson’s view, technological innovation could easily and irrevocably disrupt the natural system. She was the very first person to knock some of the shine off modernity… Though Carson talked about other pesticides, it was DDT — sprayed aerially over large areas of the United States to control mosquitoes and fire ants — that stood in for this excess…Carson used the era’s hysteria about radiation to snap her readers to attention, drawing a parallel between nuclear fallout and a new, invisible chemical threat of pesticides throughout Silent Spring. We are rightly appalled by the genetic effects of radiation, she wrote. How then, can we be indifferent to the same effect in chemicals that we disseminate widely in our environment?… The personal attacks against Carson were stunning… But Carson also had powerful advocates.” Read more…
Level: Intermediate -Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video.
Objective: Students will read the article with a focus on reading comprehension and new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through discussions, and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Tasks
• Stimulating background knowledge
Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about the topic and what they would like to learn. Have students use the KWL chart from MSU to assist them. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary or thesaurus for assistance.
- On June 4, 1963, less than a year after the controversial environmental classic “Silent Spring” was published…
- We still see the effects of unfettered human intervention through Carson’s eyes…
- Saint Rachel, “the nun of nature,” as she is called, is frequently invoked in the name of one environmental cause or another…
- Carson was initially ambivalent about taking on what she referred to as “the poison book.”
- “Silent Spring” begins with a myth…
- Carson describes “a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.
- Carson then asks her readers, “By acquiescing in an act that causes such suffering… who among us is not diminished as a human being?”
- In Carson’s view, technological innovation could easily and irrevocably disrupt the natural system.
- “The control of nature was an arrogant idea, and Carson was against human arrogance.”
- In 1960…after she found out that her breast cancer had metastasized, her tone sharpened toward the apocalyptic.
Questions for Reading Comprehension
True / False
Directions: The following statements were taken from the article. If a statement is true, students write (T) if a statement is false they write (F) and provide the correct answer from the article.
- The book “Silent Spring” was never controversial.
- Carson influenced the environmental movement.
- “Silent Spring” presents a view of nature at its best.
- Much of the data and case studies that Carson drew from were new.
- Since her book, environmental issues have grown smaller these days.
- Initially, Carson was reluctant to investigate material for “Silent Spring” or as she referred to it “the poison book.”
- Carson knew that her target audience of popular readers included scientists, but did not include housewives.
- Carson wrote about other pesticides, but it was DDT she focused on the most.
- At one point, Carson compared the genetic effects of radiation, to chemicals that were being dispersed in the environment.
- Carson also had powerful advocates, among them President Lyndon B Johnson.
Grammar Focus: Identifying Parts of Speech
Directions: Students are to identify the Nouns in the following paragraph, then use as many of the terms as possible to write their own paragraph concerning environmental issues today.
“On June 4, 1963, less than a year after the controversial environmental classic “Silent Spring” was published, its author, Rachel Carson, testified before a Senate subcommittee on pesticides. She was 56 and dying of breast cancer. She told almost no one. She’d already survived a radical mastectomy. Her pelvis was so riddled with fractures that it was nearly impossible for her to walk to her seat at the wooden table before the Congressional panel. To hide her baldness, she wore a dark brown wig. “Every once in a while in the history of mankind, a book has appeared which has substantially altered the course of history,” Senator Ernest Gruening, a Democrat from Alaska, told Carson at the time.”
III. Post Reading Tasks
Directions: Have students fill in the last column of the KWL chart they used one in the pre-reading segment of this lesson.
Directions: Have students list the central theme or topic of this article. Use the graphic organizer by Write Design.
Discussion and Essay Writing
Directions: Place students in groups. Have students discuss the following questions. After students can choose a question for an essay.
- Research the environmental movement in 1960s during Rachel Carson’s time, with an environmental movement today. Are there any differences? Similarities? Describe them.
- What is the “Green Movement? Describe its philosophy.
- Research the following people: Bill McKibben, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Al Gore. Who are they and what role did they play in environmental changes?
- The article states, “ Though Carson talked about other pesticides, it was DDT — sprayed aerially over large areas of the United States to control mosquitoes and fire ants — that stood in for this excess.”
- Research DDT and describe its initial function. What other functions did it serve? What were the results of DDT? Why was Rachel Carson so upset by the continued use of this particular chemical?