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This is a guest post by Bo Gardiner, the pen name of a Virginia-based environmental professional, naturalist (in both senses of the word), writer and humanist activist. She blogs at Under the Greenwood Tree.

A charmingly enthusiastic science teacher from Arkansas just received an award for helping her students learn about nature and environmental sustainability:

Hackler [Intermediate School] is one of six schools in the state winning the Arkansas Green Schools Challenge, sponsored by the Arkansas Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators.

A science and social studies teacher, [Barbara] Penrose is teaching her students much more, such as how make compost and how to grow vegetables to feed their families. Actually, Penrose teaches the fourth-graders more than that; she teaches them to appreciate and care for the environment around them.

“I wanted to get Hackler recognized as a green school. And what that means is that we are trying to not only sustain those green things — reduce, reuse and recycle, that we already have in place — we are trying to extend them into our students’ homes and out into the community,” said Penrose.

What’s not to love about that?!

The green school, well landscaped with trees, was built with auto-shutoff lights, motion-sensor water fountains, and toilets. Penrose not only teaches her fourth-graders about protecting the environment and recycling, as you might expect, but also “fun” things like worm composting for the school’s vegetable and butterfly gardens. Though an annual butterfly release, they learn about pollination, and they’re developing a marked nature trail to teach identification of trees, wildflowers, birds, and insects.

Wonderful stuff. I wish my school had been like this!

But wait… we’re not done yet:

Penrose uses more than science to teach the students about planting vegetables, trees and other plants. She brings a few traditional, even old-fashioned gardening tricks and techniques into play.

“We plant by the moon, the kids plant by the Farmers Almanac,” said Penrose. “They do an experiment here planting with the moon and against the moon so they can see what results happen with their seed germination … I want them to understand that people have been farming since way before us, and there is something to it. You don’t have to have all these fertilizers, and again it goes back to saving our environment.”

Using the Farmers Almanac will play a role in the next, and Penrose’s last, big project at Hackler. She said she’s retiring this year, her 18th year. She wants to use the $250 the school received along with the trophy for the Arkansas Green Schools Challenge to plant an apple orchard. Since Hackler’s opening in 2010, many trees have been planted, and replanted, around the school. Penrose wants to do something special this time.

“More” than science? How about “less” than science? I’m curious how she rationalizes the inevitably negative results from her lunar seed germination tests as evidence that it works. The Guardian recently noted in an article about gardening myths that “The Royal Horticultural Society’s science committee cannot find a scientific basis for planting by the moon.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune‘s garden columnist makes a similar point:

Myth: The moon has a profound influence on the way plants grow, so you have to plant seeds and transplants based on the proper phase of the moon to be successful.

Fact: This idea has been around for a long time, but research does not substantiate it. The moon has an undeniable effect on tides and living organisms, but planting in the wrong phase of the moon will not prevent a vegetable from growing and producing a crop. We all eat well thanks to our abundant food supply, and I promise you that farmers do not plant by a phase of the moon or a sign of the zodiac. They plant according to weather conditions and the proper season, and you should too.

To celebrate her retirement, Penrose is holding a tree planting for a small apple orchard at the end of the month:

“The astrology sign is Cancer, and the moon is in the light of the moon, and it needs to be in the light of the moon for flowering trees,” said [Penrose]. “It needs to be under the sign of Cancer, which is the best sign for any planting.”

Oh my… Is that on the test?

It’s clear Penrose cares about the environment, and she may be doing a great job of encouraging children with that passion. But it’s a shame that passion is diluted by pseudoscience.

I contacted Penrose and school officials for more information on their teaching of astrology and the Farmers’ Almanac and will update this post if I hear back.

The environment is not going to be saved by students who study astrology. It’s going to be saved by students who learn science.

(Image via Shutterstock)