Environmental Views and Values of Children in an Inner-City Black Community


  • This research was funded in part by the Texas Education Agency, in cooperation with the Houston Independent School District, and by the Clare Boothe Luce Foundation. Appreciation is extended to George Mundine, principal of Blackshear Elementary School, Houston, TX, and to the school's teachers, parents, and students. Thanks to Ann McCoy for assistance with data collection, and Tracey Hardman and Daniel Howe for assistance with analysis, coding, and reliability. Thanks also to Sara Brose for assistance with statistical analyses. Parts of this article were presented at the meeting of the Jean Piaget Society, Montreal, May 1992, and the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, New Orleans, March 1993.

Authors' addresses: Peter H. Kahn, Jr., Education and Human Development, Colby College, Waterville, ME 04901. Electronic mail: phkahn@colby.edu.


72 children across grades 1, 3, and 5 (mean ages, 7–5, 9–6, and 11–4) from an economically impoverished inner-city Black community were interviewed on their views and values about the natural environment. Assessments were made on whether children were aware of environmental problems, discussed environmental issues with their family, valued aspects of nature, and acted to help the environment. Additional assessments pertained to the prescriptivity and generalizability, and supporting justifications, of children's normative environmental judgments based on a hypothetical scenario that involved polluting a waterway. Overall, children showed sensitivity to nature and awareness of environmental problems, although attenuated by both developmental and cultural factors. Most children believed that polluting a waterway was a violation of a moral obligation. Children's environmental moral reasoning largely focused on homocentric considerations (e.g., that nature ought to be protected in order to protect human welfare). With much less frequency, children focused on biocentric considerations (e.g., that nature has intrinsic value or rights). Findings are discussed in terms of moral-developmental theory, and the place of social-cognitive research in understanding the human relationship to the natural environment.