Some late thoughts on Spectacular Nature
I know this is late, but I really wanted to post before we moved on. As I read Spectacular Nature, I couldn’t help thinking back on my own trips to Sea World when I was a kid. The last time I went was probably when Susan Davis was doing her research- in fact, the James Earl Jones Shamu Show seemed eerily familiar- I’m sure I saw it. I’m fascinated by Davis’ critical examination of a complex educational and corporate machine. We tend to take for granted nature as “culture-free” and Davis makes clear how Sea World exemplifies nature’s cultural and social relevancy and construction.
Not surprising considering my background, I found most intriguing her discussion of the role of teaching/learning and educational programming at Sea World. It is frightening how corporately influenced schooling has become and how much of a child’s view of the world is shaped by capitalistic values, but it is unavoidable in the world we live in and perhaps we are raising children to be successful in a corporate modern world. I’m at a loss as to how this can be overcome. Davis adeptly opens up the myriad of ways the Sea World educational programs provide youth with skewed views of the environment. Sea World’s narratives permeate San Diego culture and through Shamu TV effectively seep into formal learning on the national level. How can educators find effective counter narratives, and what if they have no interest in finding them? What are the consequences of educating children to not challenge the status quo? What happens when education ignores such complicated issues as pollution, human’s relationship to the environment, evolution, and manufactured nature?
Frankly, it scares me. I see New York kids who have no idea what real mountains are or no concept of animals outside of a zoo. This is so different from my own upbringing in the Pacific Northwest where I could experience real tide pools within miles of my home and took whale watching trips where I saw orcas (not “killer whales”) in a much more natural habitat. (Not that whale-watching trips don’t pose their own problems.) Davis highlights a quote used often that says we will preserve only what we love, but what is Sea World teaching kids to love? Killer whales that put on a good show- jump high and hug their trainers? It seems to be teaching them to learn in the sort of banking model that Paulo Freire criticizes. As an educator I strive to make kids question and think about the information that is presented to them, but I worry because Sea World’s power is great.
Looking at Sea World’s website, it is interesting to note that they are touted as “Adventure Parks”, with images of rides (something Davis mentioned as being absent from the park)— it seems Sea World has had to evolve in order to compete with other amusement and theme parks. It also pictures kids swimming, which I take to mean perhaps there are now water-rides? The fact that the images of the children make it look like they are swimming with the killer whales is not accidental. Also, there is no heading on Sea World San Diego’s site that explicitly says “Education”, though school field trip information can be found under “Group Information”. Somehow I had expected the educational programming to be more forefront. However, Shamu TV is still going strong.