When the terms “oil spill” and “education” are mentioned in the same sentence, the first and most obvious connection most people make is likely to be to teaching children about the oil spill. How does one convey to them the importance and impact of the situation in an age appropriate way. I have made an attempt to help educators do this with a video “Thoughts on the Oil Spill—There Is Only One Water,” which uses clips of the oil spill combined with a song from my opera Kiravanu that talks in very simple terms about the water cycle, the problem that pollution in one spot affects everyone, and the importance of stewardship.
The copyrighted words are sung by children in Kindergarten through fourth grade who are playing the roles of the Elements—Fire, Earth, Water, Air, and Wood—asking humanity to steward resources thoughtfully:
“There is only one water
Only one Earth and one air.
If people pollute, it spreads to others,
Though that really isn’t fair.
“Only so much water.
Only so many trees.
If folks use them up, then the whole world has less,
So please pay attention, please!
“We must be true to our natures:
We cannot act as we choose,
So while we burn or flow, erupt or blow
Please go give people the news:
“There is only one water.“
© 2008 James Humberstone and Mary Elizabeth For question, comments, republication, or performance permissions, please contact
There are several other important connections between the oil spill and education. One that has come to the forefront through a speech last week by the Alabama State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton is that when a state has an Education Trust Fund (ETF) funded by a variety of taxes, a catastrophe that impacts those taxes—whether through loss of general sales, loss of tourism, etc.—will impact education funding of public education in that state.
An interview in the Salt Lake Tribune with a Utah resident—formerly an Alaskan fisherman, whose career in that line of work was ended by the Exxon Valdez tanker incident in the 1980s—brings out another way in which the future of education is connected to the oil spill. This article points out that with the cap that Congress put on compensation in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the way that the award from the Exxon Valdez spill dragged through the courts, parents’ ability to finance their children’s college educations was impacted.