The venerable adage “you get what you give” rationalizes that personal endeavors determine the degree of reciprocity. In the context of stewardship, one’s treatment of the Earth produces an immediate environment that is equipped to support life or an environment vulnerable to adversities; there is an unequivocal kinship between Earth and its subjects. Thus, the future of Earth’s welfare lies in the hands of a modern generation and programs like environmental education (EE) should be supported to meet sustainability demands. EE gives schoolchildren a dynamic learning experience by taking traditional classroom systems one step out of the door; Students directly connect with the environmental challenges and problems that affect their well being. Emphasizing an awareness of the biophysical environment through “green” lesson plans in schools and communities will endow present and future generations with the skills necessary to preserve the world around them.
The Earth is currently victim to environmental adversities as a result of man’s affairs. Record high carbon dioxide levels, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity are only few of many problems disrupting the wellbeing of the biosphere. Approaches such as EE are targeted at solving these pressing issues. EE is a process that develops citizens with the awareness, knowledge, attitude, skills, and commitment to address global challenges (Stapp). The field of EE trains individuals to solve issues–not limited to the environment–through the development of critical-thinking and decision-making skills. EE in schools, specifically, stresses an interdisciplinary curricula and is not exclusive to scientific instruction. In theory, students learn about mathematics, history, social studies, and language arts through EE. Students meet academic standards while cultivating an awareness of the environment. EE can incorporated through–but is not limited to–local issue explorations, community service projects, and outdoor learning experiences . Students at Gililland Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas study a nearby prairie which incorporates all academic disciplines in a project-based curriculum (Archie). With a focus on learners of all ages, EE truly provides a comprehensive experience for elementary students and high schoolers alike. Ultimately, EE strives to devise new patterns of behavior in people working individually and collectively towards the environment.
The endorsement of EE is evident. The National Association of Independent Schools conducted a comprehensive survey on EE among private, independent schools. Results gleaned from multiple schools revealed that 65% of school officials believe EE is extremely important in helping students achieve environmental literacy. In addition, 71%, 66% and 62% of administrators, students, and faculty, showed interest in EE, respectively (Chapman). Although support for EE programs is clear, the amount of funding does not represent the common interest. According to the Foundation Center, out of the 20,000 largest foundations in the United States, only 0.4% listed environmental education as a field of interest. Continuing, in 2007, all US foundations provided grants totalling $4.94 billion for educational initiatives. Only 0.3% of those funds were allocated to EE programs (Ardoin).
Environmental education is critical in preparing students for the workforce. With a focus on project-based learning, students are able to do things that they learn. At the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, Minnesota, high school juniors and seniors conduct independent fieldwork and service projects. The integrated and hands-on curriculum prepares the students for college; they score higher ACT scores than their peers and graduate as active citizen leaders (Archie). Traditional classroom systems do not allow students to experiment with an independent and hands-on curriculum. Instead, every student conforms to a single lesson plan that is unable to meet the demands and interests of each individual. As a result of EE’s dynamic learning experience, students develop the ability to transfer their knowledge from familiar contexts to unfamiliar contexts, there is a decrease in classroom discipline problems, and all students have an opportunity to learn at a higher level. Students are motivated to learn and as a result, they understand what they learn: “I’ve learned a lot more here than I ever did at my old school,” he said. “There, they spoon-fed you. Here, they leave learning up to you, and that makes it easier to learn, and to want to learn more” (“Benefits…”). EE teaches students the importance of working individually or collectively towards a goal. These skills can be applied to their work environment. Ultimately, EE cultivates students that are prepared to enter college and the workforce across all disciplines.
A sustainable future is possible through the endorsement and funding of EE; it is viable on both economical and environmental schemes. Schools that have an integrated EE program exhibit a host of benefits. The National Association of Independent Schools indicates that from schools that have EE integrated curricula, 56% are reducing hazardous chemicals and 45% are adopting sustainable landscaping and water use. Continuing, 84% of schools have a vegetable garden and a majority of them serve produce from the garden in the cafeteria. Waste reduction, recycling, and composting programs are also prevalent at 93% of schools (Chapman). EE students gain an understanding of the biophysical environment, but they’re also making a difference in the process. EE initiatives encourage students to solve basic environmental challenges like climate change or pollution. EE does not impose a certain viewpoint–but rather–it encourages citizens to take a stance on a certain point of contention. With an increased motivation to be involved in the issues around them, citizens are more likely to voice their opinion. Because EE promotes ethical decision-making skills, citizens are more likely to make sound policies on environmental concerns. They are trained to advocate for legislation in support of a renewed and sustainable, biophysical world. Not only is EE sustainable, it is also cost-effective. On average, schools provide less than $5,000 towards green initiatives (Chapman). With such a low price tag, it is possible to make EE a reality in all schools. The deployment of EE programs would eclipse the amount of funding that goes into it. Fundamentally, EE uses minimal funds to harbor a renewed, tenable status of living for all.
Environmental education is effective in cultivating environmentally-conscious citizens. The fate of Earth rests in the actions and motives the imminent generation. EE is a process that removes the fear of plight in making decisions concerning the status of the environment. A sociological study covered a systematic and in-depth analysis of multiple variables’–such as environmental sensitivity, personal investment and intention to act–effects on citizenship behavior. It is concluded that citizenship behavior can be developed through EE (Hungerford). The beauty of EE lies in its ability to grasp the consciousness of each and every individual, no matter their academic and career interests. EE teaches linguists, mathematicians, scientists, and historians alike to be cognizant of the terrene and the cosmos. The inclusivity of EE makes it a powerful and effective tool for inspiring a generation of stewards. Studies reveal that the deployment of EE in schools is effective in changing learner behavior. Twenty-four elementary students in Taiwan explored environmental issues through educational activities inside and outside of school for five weeks. An assessment of their achievement and attitude towards environmental education was taken before and after the study. Results of the study revealed that students scored significantly higher in the post-assessments than they did the pre-assessments (Lai). Strategies to develop environmentally-conscious citizens are established; it’s simply a matter of deploying these said strategies.
The Earth houses the living and nonliving, tangible and intangible, manmade and agrestal. As a result of human activity, the world around us is experiencing a host of environmental misfortunes. But, with adversities comes a demand for resolution. Through honed decision-making and problem-solving skills, citizens are equipped to preserve the flora, fauna, and natural communities on Earth. The challenge here lies in our willingness to employ environmental education in our everyday lives. As Zenobia Barlow of the Center for Ecoliteracy says, “Education needs to be innovative and integral to the problem-solving process that foundations are championing for the environment. Otherwise, at best, we’ll have really outdated solutions to constantly changing problems” (Ardoin). So, have we reached the extent of amenability to deploy such strategies? Or will we allow the Earth and its individuals to succumb to an inevitable lifetime of adversities?
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- Ardoin, Nicole M. “Environmental Education: A Strategy for the Future.” Environmental Grantmakers Association, Oct. 2009. https://people.stanford.edu/nmardoin/sites/default/files/documents/EE_Strategy_for_the_Future.pdf. Accessed 4 Sep 2018.
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- Chapman, Paul. “Environmental Education and Sustainability.” National Association of Independent Schools, 2014, www.nais.org/magazine/independent-school/summer-2014/environmental-education-and-sustainability/. Accessed 4 Sep 2018.
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