“The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it is banning a common pesticide, widely used since 1965 on fruits and vegetables, from use on food crops because it has been linked to neurological damage in children. The Environmental Protection Agency said this week it would publish a regulation to block the use of chlorpyrifos on food. One of the most widely used pesticides, chlorpyrifos is commonly applied to corn, soybeans, apples, broccoli, asparagus and other produce.” Coral Davenport, The New York Times, August 18, 2021″
How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental Movement
“Nearly 60 years ago, Rachel Carson shocked the agricultural industry with her critique of indiscriminate pesticide use in the United States. Silent Spring, her book, quickly became a trademark of environmental activism, paving the way for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and a plethora of other modern-day protections.” Earthday, September 26, 2019
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental Movement, By Eliza Griswold, The New York Times, September 21, 2021
“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. Silent Spring was published 50 years ago this month. Though she did not set out to do so, Carson influenced the environmental movement as no one had since the 19th century’s most celebrated hermit, Henry David Thoreau, wrote about Walden Pond.
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. Much of the data and case studies that Carson drew from weren’t new; the scientific community had known of these findings for some time, but Carson was the first to put them all together for the general public and to draw stark and far-reaching conclusions. In doing so, Carson, the citizen-scientist, spawned a revolution.
Silent Spring, which has sold more than two million copies, made a powerful case for the idea that if humankind poisoned nature, nature would in turn poison humankind.
‘Our heedless and destructive acts enter into the vast cycles of the earth and in time return to bring hazard to ourselves,’ she told the subcommittee…We still see the effects of unfettered human intervention through Carson’s eyes: she popularized modern ecology.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate -Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. 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 of environmental damage.
Excerpt: How Silent Spring Ignited the Environmental Movement, By By Eliza Griswold, The New York Times, September 9, 2012
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 KWL chart. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.
Next, have students look at the pictures in the article and generate ideas/words that may be connected to the article. Students can use the UIE brainstorming chart (sample) for brainstorming the meanings. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board.
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.
- Rachel Carson wrote the controversial environmental classic “Silent Spring”in 1962.
- Today, 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 choose one of the prompts and write a short essay.
- Write an essay describing Rachel Carson’s life as a young girl (e.g., was she rich/poor? who were her parents? did she have siblings? where did she attend school? What prompted her to write her famous book Silent Spring?)
- 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?
- Do we still use DDT today in 2021?
Information for Group Projects
Directions: As a group review the list of The Biggest Environmental Problems for 2021 (presented by earth.org). Then review the list of environmental problems during Carson’s time (1960s-70s) presented by Activism in Michigan. Use the Venn Digram to compare and contrast the the environmental problems we face today with those during Carson’s time. Write a brief description of your results. Share with the class.
The Biggest Environmental Problems of 2021
“The climate crisis is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, and we are not ready for it. While the crisis has many factors that play a role in its exacerbation, there are some that warrant more attention than others. Here are some of the biggest environmental problems of our lifetime.” EARTH.ORG
• Poor Governance. In a world governed by economics, our society has failed to factor in the value of Nature. …
• Food Waste
• Biodiversity Loss
• Plastic Pollution
• Air Pollution
•Global Warming From Fossil Fuels
Biggest Environmental Problems in the Late 1960s
“During the late 1960s, an ‘environmental crisis’ took shape as a series of environmental catastrophes and revelatory books transformed the American environmental consciousness. Soon before the crisis took its final form, several immensely popular books including Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring and Ralph Nader’s 1965 Unsafe at Any Speed pushed the public to question the relationship between the government, tasked with protecting the public interest, and industries, incentivized to act in their own economic interests.” Michigan -give Earth-a Chance
- Chemical toxins such as DDT
- Oil Spills
- Air Pollution/smog
- Pollutants in the drinking supply
- The Population Bomb
Directions: Go through the list of Environmental Organizations and choose one (or as many as you like). Write a short description of the organization including how does it help the environment. Share your views with the class.
Additional Books By Rachel Carson: For a complete List of Carson’s books