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

9, 10, 11, 12

Students will summarize the words of Rachel Carson and describe the impact 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.

PrintTwo Fifty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • use strategies for reading non-fiction to read and comprehend Rachel Carson's first chapter (available online) 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.
  • text from chapter one of 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 Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

    “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)

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

  2. Ask students to explain what the quotes mean and to react to them. Ask students to describe evidence they have seen of nature overriding how people try to do things or people trying to override what nature does.

  3. Students read “A Fable for Tomorrow,” the first chapter of Silent Spring. This is available online or at the library. They take notes about the impact our practices can have on nature.

  4. Discuss students' notes and reflections on what we are doing and could be doing to protect nature from the harm our practices cause. Have the students guess the year it was published. When you tell them that it was first published in 1962, have them calculate how many years ago that was and speculate on what changes have been implemented since 1962.

  5. 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.)

  6. From Al Gore's introduction: "Both a scientist and an idealist, Carson was also a loner who listened, something that those in places of power so often fail to do. Silent Spring was conceived when she received a letter from a woman named Olga Owens Huckins in Duxbury, Massachusetts, telling her that DDT was killing birds. Today, because Carson's work led to the ban on DDT, some of the species that were her special concern- eagles and peregrine falcons, for example- are no longer at the edge of extinction. It may be that the human species, too, or at least countless human lives, will be saved because of the words she wrote."

  7. If Al Gore's introduction to the 1994 printing of Silent Spring isn't available, read commentaries online about the impact of Rachel Carson's work. Environmentalism was a new concept in 1962. Have students point to specific passages that refer to Carson's effectiveness. Discuss 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.” 

  8. Point out that Carson's research and writing were an act of generous citizenship. Talk about how writing in ways that inform and spark action make her a good citizen in a democracy.

  9. Have students respond in writing to the questions in the handout Homework Questions. Discuss the answers and guide the discussion to actions we may want to take, either through writing and advocacy or by changing behaviors. 


Evaluate students' written responses to the questions in Homework Questions.

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.