Drama is a unique way to connect children with their textbooks. That’s why a play on the achievements of Rachel Carson might be coming to a classroom near you. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports on how the life of one prominent environmentalist is teaching students about
Drama is a unique way to connect children with their textbooks.
That’s why a play on the achievements of Rachel Carson might be coming to
classroom near you. The Great Lake Radio Consortium’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton
reports on how the life of one prominent environmentalist is teaching
students about science:
The office of Professor Buck Favorini is in a tall gothic tower. It was the inspiration for Gotham City in the first Batman movie. Inside his tower at the University of Pittsburgh, Professor Favorini has his own superhero story. His children’s play, Rachel Carson Saves the Day, is a science lesson in the language of children.
“We have used the sort of idiom of superheroes in the play, because it’s a way of teaching kids about science that they can understand simply by looking keenly at the world around them.”
Favorini says if Rachel Carson hadn’t been smart, bold, and risky, pesticides like DDT might still be in wide use. Some people honored her for her book Silent Spring. Others saw her as a reckless, unpredictable scientist threatening their chemical superhero.
“People made some of the worst chemicals in the world launched a very expensive campaign to undermine Rachel Carson’s scientific abilities partly based on the fact that she was a woman.”
Perched on a hill, overlooking another part of Pittsburgh, is Spring Hill Elementary.
LOUDSPEAKER: “Third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers, we’ll call you to the
assembly as soon as the staff sets up in the auditorium. Thanks.”
The staff is actor Elena Block and stage manager Josh Futrell. They hustle to assemble silver pipes of scaffolding and hang two white screens.
“There are two DVD players that do these great images that do these scenes from science and pictures of Rachel Carson. Sort of become this floating back drop.”
While Block is on stage as Rachel Carson, Futrell controls the images, music, and the voice of “Little Rachel’s” Mother.
FICTIONAL MOTHER: “Alice in Wonderland is your breakfast companion again.”
FICTIONAL RACHEL: “Oh Mama, I love this book, and so does Candy when I read it to her.”
(Sound of barking)
The play begins with Rachel as a young girl. She grows up quickly to become a marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Her scientific observations reveal chemicals like DDT are contaminating waterways and silently creeping up the food chain.
FICTIONAL RACHEL: “This is the bird. The bird that ate the clam, that ate the
plankton, that swam in the ocean, fed by the stream, that carried the
(Sound of clock ticking)
FICTIONAL RACHEL: “I’m in the late afternoon of my life and I am so angry. The next book I right is going to make a lot of noise.”
(Sound of “Mighty Mouse” theme)
To write Silent Spring, the passionate scientist/writer rips away her dress
to reveal a green superhero suit. Quickly Super Rachel is attacked by a man who’s face is hidden behind a long
(Sound of fighting)
The Chemical industry attacks Rachel for her ideas. Images of nature and chemical compounds flash on the screens behind them. Super Rachel uses cartwheels and karate chops to over power Chemical Man.
(Sound of hip hop battle)
CHEMICAL MAN: “The bugs are buggin’ me.”
FICTIONAL RACHEL: “The chemicals are killin’ me.”
CHEMICAL MAN: “We’re gonna hit ’em from the air.”
FICTIONAL RACHEL: “How can you not care?”
Super Rachel prevails and DDT is officially banned in 1972.
(Sound of applause)
After the play, it’s clear the students of Spring Hill Elementary were paying attention.
GIRL: “She was trying to think of better ways to kill the insects instead of just polluting them.”
BOY: “I think she thought it was really important about the environment, and I think that’s good, because most people don’t.”
Not everyone agrees with the conclusions of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. Some scientists say Carson misrepresented existing 1950’s data on bird reproduction, and others say the very threat of malaria in developing countries should trump possible environmental threats of DDT. Actress Elena Block thinks despite these criticisms, Rachel Carson’s story has much to offer children.
“If they can sort of come away the idea with the idea that you can exact change being yourself from the place that you’re from. I think that’s pretty good, don’t you?”
Rachel Carson Saves the Day starts its second year of touring this fall, and perhaps it’s fun, multimedia look at environmental protection will inspire America’s next generation of intrepid scientists.
For the GLRC, I’m Lisa Ann Pinkerton.