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Not in my Backyard: The Environmental Movement in Wisconsin -By: Jon Dodge



This five-lesson unit is designed to help teachers and students address two of the most neglected Historical Eras and Themes Standards. Wisconsin History Standard #10- Wisconsin’s response to 20th century change and U.S. History Standard #10- The search for prosperity and equal rights in Cold War and post-Cold War America, 1945 to present are not necessarily completely overlooked in our classrooms, but often times the focus ends at Progressivism in the Wisconsin History standard and the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. History standard. There is a very rich, vital late 20th century story with a distinctive local theme that is generally overlooked. This story begins with the American oil crises of 1973 and 1979 and continues today. What began as a reaction in rural Wisconsin and elsewhere across the country to our national expansion of energy production into nuclear power without strong consideration for the potentially catastrophic end results led to an awareness of negative impact of human footprint upon our state’s natural beauty and resources. Eventually, this awareness has led to a moratorium on nuclear power plants, grassroots campaigns against such blights as Project ELF and the Ladysmith Mine, the establishment of Superfund Sites all over Wisconsin, a successful fight to close the Crandon Mine, and most recently, the identification and vigilant supervision of what are called factory farms. However, Wisconsin’s strong instinct to protect our state’s pristine beauty has exacted a price on our state. For example, in 2003 the Fraser Institute, a mining think tank gave Wisconsin the lowest “Investment Attractiveness Index” of any political unit in the world. At this point in human development environmentalism is not necessarily seen as an economic boon. Ultimately, the environmental ideals that were central to the Tyrone protests of the 1970s spawned a world-wide movement known as environmental justice in the 1990s and today. Many people around the country and the world are trying to figure out ways to stay economically vital and protect the world we all live in. Everyone has the right to clean air, water and land and no one has the right to destroy the environment.

This short unit hopes to address four major ideas or themes that have grown out of our state’s environmental movement.

  1. What is an “environmental activist”?

    An attempt to dispel stereotypes

  2. Environmentalism is universal

    Anything can happen in anybody’s backyard

  3. Environmental activism must be a collective community effort

    Toqueville’s Democracy in America true then and now

  4. Local and national environmental reform movements conflict with and complement one another and must be negotiated politically, economically and socially.

    Different groups with different missions can work together for environmental justice

This unit begins with an emphasis on the local case study of the Tyrone Nuclear Power Plant in rural Durand in the 1970s and 1980s. It is important for teachers to note that Tyrone is just a model. What took place in Tyrone in those years marked by fear of large scale blackouts and long gas lines has happened near every small town in the Chippewa River Valley. The nuclear power plant is easily replaced by a dam, strip mine, Navy radar facility or giant farm with a leaky manure pit. Local individuals and groups are interchangeable parts. The history of environmentalism is next door or just down the street from every school house in Western Wisconsin. Lessons two through five really try to expand on the story of Tyrone to embrace the entire community that is Wisconsin and ultimately, in the last lesson, get students thinking about a more global view of environmentalism. One of the strong features of LBD was Locality and Nationality. Following the sequence from Lesson 1 and a small, rural case study to Lesson 5 and the principle of environmental justice for all world citizens displays locality and nationality quite well.

Potential Resources for Teachers-

Center for History Teaching and Learning Initiatives Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility

Natural Resource Defense Council

Ecology Center:

The Environmental Justice Information

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Environmental Wisconsin’s Progressive Voice

Grist-Environmental News and Commentary

Food and Water Watch

Northern Thunder:

Wisconsin History Standards: Historical Eras and Themes-

  1. Wisconsin History grade 4-12 standard #10
    Wisconsin’s response to 20th century change
  2. U.S. History grade 5-12 standard #10
    the search for prosperity and equal rights in Cold War and post-Cold War America, 1945-present

Social Studies Standard B: History Performance Standards – Grade 12-

B.12.1 Explain different points of view on the same historical event, using data gathered from various sources, such as letters, journals, diaries, newspapers, government documents, and speeches

B.12.4 Assess the validity of different interpretations of significant historical events

B.12.5 Gather various types of historical evidence, including visual and quantitative data, to analyze issues of freedom and equality, liberty and order, region and nation, individual and community, law and conscience, diversity and civic duty; form a reasoned conclusion in the light of other possible conclusions; and develop a coherent argument in the light of other possible arguments

B.12.9 Select significant changes caused by technology, industrialization, urbanization, and population growth, and analyze the effects of these changes in the United States and the world

Social Studies Standard C: Political Science and Citizenship Performance Standards – Grade 12

C.12.1 Identify the sources, evaluate the justification, and analyze the implications of certain rights and responsibilities of citizens

C.12.8 Locate, organize, analyze, and use information from various sources to understand an issue of public concern, take a position, and communicate the position

C.12.9 Identify and evaluate the means through which advocates influence public policy

C.12.10 Identify ways people may participate effectively in community affairs and the political process

C.12.11 Evaluate the ways in which public opinion can be used to influence and shape public policy C.12.14 Explain and analyze how different political and social movements have sought to mobilize public opinion and obtain governmental support in order to achieve their goals

Information and Technology Content Standards-

A. Media and Technology

Students in Wisconsin will select and use media and technology to access, organize, create, and communicate information for solving problems and constructing new knowledge, products, and systems.

B. Information and Inquiry

Students in Wisconsin will access, evaluate, and apply information efficiently and effectively from a variety of sources in print, nonprint, and electronic formats to meet personal and academic needs.

C. Independent Learning

Students in Wisconsin will apply technological and information skills to issues of personal and academic interest by actively and independently seeking information; demonstrating critical and discriminating reading, listening, and viewing habits; and, striving for personal excellence in learning and career pursuits.

D. The Learning Community

Students in Wisconsin will demonstrate the ability to work collaboratively in teams or groups, use information and technology in a responsible manner, respect intellectual property rights, and recognize the importance of intellectual freedom and access to information in a democratic society.

Ten Standards for Teacher Development and Licensure

  1. Teachers know the subjects they are teaching.

    The teacher understands the central concepts, tools of inquiry, and structures of the disciplines she or he teaches and can create learning experiences that make these aspects of subject matter meaningful for pupils.

  2. Teachers know how children grow.

    The teacher understands how children with broad ranges of ability learn and provides instruction that supports their intellectual, social, and personal development.

  3. Teachers understand that children learn differently.

    The teacher understands how pupils differ in their approaches to learning and the barriers that impede learning and can adapt instruction to meet the diverse needs of pupils, including those with disabilities and exceptionalities.

  4. Teachers know how to teach.

    The teacher understands and uses a variety of instructional strategies, including the use of technology, to encourage children's development of critical thinking, problem solving, and performance skills.

  5. Teachers know how to manage a classroom.

    The teacher uses an understanding of individual and group motivation and behavior to create a learning environment that encourages positive social interaction, active engagement in learning, and self-motivation.

  6. Teachers communicate well.

    The teacher uses effective verbal and nonverbal communication techniques as well as instructional media and technology to foster active inquiry, collaboration, and supportive interaction in the classroom.

  7. Teachers are able to plan different kinds of lessons.

    The teacher organizes and plans systematic instruction based upon knowledge of subject matter, pupils, the community, and curriculum goals.

  8. Teachers know how to test for student progress.

    The teacher understands and uses formal and informal assessment strategies to evaluate and ensure the continuous intellectual, social, and physical development of the pupil.

  9. Teachers are able to evaluate themselves.

    The teacher is a reflective practitioner who continually evaluates the effects of his or her choices and actions on pupils, parents, professionals in the learning community and others and who actively seeks out opportunities to grow professionally.

  10. Teachers are connected with other teachers and the community.

    The teacher fosters relationships with school colleagues, parents, and agencies in the larger community to support pupil learning and well-being and acts with integrity, fairness and in an ethical manner.