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Featured Article

This commentary is the text of an oral presentation delivered at the 88th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Mammalogists in Brookings, South Dakota, on 22 June 2008 to recognize receipt of the Joseph Grinnell Award for Excellence in Education in Mammalogy. Much has been written by previous recipients of the Joseph Grinnell Award about the declining interest in natural history and organismic biology in academia and in society in general. In the course of 40 years of university teaching and student advising, as well as field research with students on 5 continents, I too have witnessed this increasing abandonment of the natural world. This phenomenon seems to stem from changes in the early experiences of children and young people over the past 40 years and, thus, I would advance the premise that mammalogy and other branches of natural history begin at home. Three types of learning seem important to the developing mind. First is the time and opportunity for unstructured, unforced exploration of the local environment—time to develop from the inside out rather than merely as a shell coated with a number of intellectual veneers. Second is learning from the example and caring instruction of enthusiastic parents, teachers, and mentors. Third is the transfer of information...