First impressions: the initial group interviews
This section provides an overview of what the children imparted during the group interviews conducted at the start of each project. The areas these focus-group style semi-structured interviews sought to probe were the children's knowledge of the environment, television programmes which they had seen on the subject, and how they felt they had come to learn about environmental matters.
(i) Knowledge of environmental issues
There did not appear to be any individual, in any of the groups, who did not have some knowledge or awareness of environmental matters. The term 'the environment' was meaningful in all cases, and understanding of it seemed to be sufficiently great that a generous range of topics and concerns were brought into the discussion - and ultimately the videos - on the subject. The coverage of the individual projects below describes the varying degrees of knowledge between the different groups in different schools. Nevertheless, there was a general base of information and (more often than not) concern across all of the groups, which included litter, pollution, and wildlife, and an understanding of recycling. Many children also had a grasp of more complex matters such as acid rain, and the felling of rainforests.
Whilst awareness was generally about more global rather than local problems, children in all groups were keenest to make a video about the environment on their doorsteps. Of course, this was the choice which was more practical, and allowed the children to go out and about more. It also showed that they were able to connect the two spheres, and link the abstract general to the local specific.
(ii) Television programmes
When asked to name programmes on which they had seen material about the environment, all groups were able to come up with a few. Newsround was the factual programme most often mentioned, followed by Blue Peter. The most commonly named fictional programme was Captain Planet, followed by Toxic Crusaders and The Animals of Farthing Wood, all animated series. Two-thirds of the programmes mentioned (15 out of 22) were on one of the two BBC channels.
Few of the programmes were discussed with any enthusiasm, however. Nevertheless, Captain Planet was thought of with some affection by members of four of the seven groups. Charlotte at Blenheim Primary recalled themes from it: 'Litter, pollution... The bad people made pollution and sewage', whilst Sophie at Brudenell had a videotape of episodes she had compiled. At Beckett Park, Alan immediately launched into the theme song ('Captain Planet, he's our hero, gonna get pollution down to zero...'), and Izoduwa explained how the series 'makes you understand' about the issues, because (she implied) they are integral to the plot of the stories. Inevitably, others felt the cartoon to be 'naff' or childish.
The long-running magazine programme Blue Peter was not generally highly regarded, the older groups at Royal Park and Beckett Park in particular finding the programme laughably dull. However, the middle-class children of the same age at Weetwood almost uniformly quite liked the programme, and found no shame in that view ; one boy even owned a copy of the 1990 Blue Peter Green Book. The younger groups also had time for the programme, and Sophie at Brudenell had held a 'bring and buy' sale for the Blue Peter Water for Africa appeal, which others were familiar with.
Pupils generally were more sympathetic towards Newsround, the Children's BBC news programme, despite a reasonably widespread knowledge of the differences between its news values (seen as an emphasis on wildlife and school dinner stories) and those of the 'proper' news, which were implicitly accepted as superior. At Beckett Park, for example, Chris noted, 'It's kid's news, innit, it's kid's news', but his friend Martyn added 'I like watching it' too. It appeared to be quite common knowledge that Newsround would be a strong source of environmental information.
There were also some less obvious nominations. Adam at Blenheim animatedly suggested that the movie Hook had a pro-environmental theme, because in the lair of the villain, Captain Hook, 'It's all messy... the environment's bad'. Laura and others at Beckett Park suggested The New Adventures of Superman [US title: Lois and Clark], which they found enjoyable, and rightly noted that a couple of episodes had involved plots based around environmental issues.
(iii) Sources of environmental information
The children had learned about environmental matters from a number of sources, but the primary reference points were usually television and school. The degrees varied, naturally, but in general, television was seen as the single most important source. At Burley St. Matthias and Brudenell schools, the children had done almost nothing on environmental issues or problems in the classroom, and so television was a fundamental information source for them. The children of Blenheim, by comparison, had covered quite a number of areas in class, but this seemed also to cultivate enthusiasm for television material on those themes. When asked whether they thought they got more information from television or school, the group opinion was divided, but television won 60-40, or 70-30. A similar debate at Beckett Park concluded that environmental information came from a variety of sources, but that television was the most important.
In all of the schools the children were able to suggest a number of other possible sources of environmental information, such as the radio, newspapers, books, teletext, computers, libraries, supermarket leaflets, and videos. In the main, such lists seemed to be more catalogues of potential media, rather than necessarily being sources which the children would regularly use for that purpose themselves, although the middle-class children of Weetwood school apparently did refer to the newspapers, and even CD-ROMS and the internet, which they mentioned. All groups noted that their parents might talk about the environment, but, with a few exceptions, rarely did.