Fable for Tomorrow and Today—Rachel Carson's Silent Spring

9, 10, 11, 12

Students will understand and demonstrate their knowledge of the enormous impact that one woman writer had on the world and our environment by reading Part I of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Al Gore's 1994 introduction to the latest printing of the book.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo Fifty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • use strategies for reading non-fiction to read and comprehend Rachel Carson's first chapter and Al Gore's 1994 introduction to Silent Spring.
  • through reading, identify and clarify his or her personal beliefs about the environment.
  • articulate those beliefs through class discussion and writing.
  • understand the impact that one person, through writing, can have on the world.
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, with an introduction by Al Gore, 1994.
  • student copies of the handout: Homework Questions 

Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring (with an introduction by Vice President Al Gore) . Houghton Mifflin Company: New York, 1994 (first published 1962).


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Display the following quotes, which are found at the beginning of “Silent Spring:”

  2. “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.” (Albert Schweitzer)

  3. “I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good. Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission. We would stand a better chance of survival if we accommodated ourselves to this planet and viewed it appreciatively instead of skeptically and dictatorially.” (E.B. White)

  4. Ask students to explain what they think the quotes mean and react to them. Ask students to discuss how they feel about environmental issues.

    Alternate reflection: Divide the class in half. Assign the Schweitzer quote to the first half and the E. B. White quote to the second half. Pair students in each half, allowing five minutes to react and write their reflections of the quotes. Write their reactions on large sheets of paper and post around the room. Share their reflections orally.

  5. Read “A Fable for Tomorrow,” the first chapter of Silent Spring.

  6. Discuss students' reactions to the piece. (You may want to have them write them down first and then discuss).

  7. Explain to students that the rest of the book explains in scientific detail what Carson discusses in “A Fable for Tomorrow” and invite them to read the rest of the book if they are interested. (This could be used as an extension activity.)

  8. Have the students guess the year it was published.

  9. When you tell them that it was first published in 1962, have them speculate on how successful it has been in effecting change since 1962.

  10. Day Two:

  11. Read Al Gore's introduction to the 1994 printing of Silent Spring to find answers to the question of how effective Rachel Carson's book was in influencing important environmental issues. (You may want to assign this for homework on Day One.)

  12. Have students point to specific passages in the book that refer to Carson's effectiveness.

  13. Ask students if Carson's actions make her a good citizen in a democracy.

  14. Bring closure by pointing out Gore's last sentence: “Her work, the truth she brought to light, the science and research she inspired, stand not only as powerful arguments for limiting the use of pesticides but as powerful proof of the difference that one individual can make.” Also make a note that her medium was writing.

  15. For homework, have students respond in writing to the questions in the handout Homework Questions . (After reading and evaluating them, you may want to continue discussion based on students' responses.)


Evaluate students' written responses to the questions in Attachment One: Homework Questions . You may also want to give a grade for their participation in the discussion.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.12 Explain why private action is important to the protection of minority voices.
    3. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Give an example of individual philanthropic action that influenced national or world history.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Cite historical examples of citizen actions that affected the common good.