The beginning of my environmental education as an elementary schooler started with Reduce and ended with Recycle. Back in the day environmental education consisted of little more than teaching kids about the three Rs. If global warming existed in the early and mid-90s, I never heard about it. I remember learning about the rainforest, but never about deforestation. I do think I was introduced to the ozone layer, but only because it had a hole in it.
But more detrimental than the omissions from my education was the positive light in which open pit mining practices, oil drilling and pesticides were bathed. Just as Christopher Columbus ""discovered"" America for Spain, so to did open pit mines supply the necessary (omit ""poisonous"") materials that fill our lithium batteries, Pumpjacks in silhouette against the setting sun ensure a plentiful supply of oil to power American SUVs, and pesticides keep annoying pests at bay, (without harmful side effects) increasing yields of hard working farmers everywhere.
Suffice it to say that my environmental education was lacking. Throughout this week, in celebration of Charles Darwin's 201st birthday, the Daily Cardinal Opinion Page, will be tackling science-related issues. We live in a country where, according to the National Center for Science Education, evolution curriculum in public schools is inadequate in almost one in five states. So, we would all be doing Darwin a solid by focusing more effort on better educating our youth about science as a whole, and more specifically about the environment.
Today's youth, perhaps more so than any previous generation, are especially affected by science and technology. Even elementary schoolers are talking on cell phones, listening to iPods and surfing the web on their own personal laptops. As recently as ten years ago, this would have been unheard of. Science's impact on our everyday lives should be reason enough to allot it a significant portion of time and energy in education. And when it comes to environmental education, our interaction with and dependence on the environment should be reason enough to focus a significant portion of science education to environment related issues.
Ali Vincent, a UW-Madison graduate and former AmeriCorps volunteer, who has worked with REAP (Research, Education, Action and Policy) and their Farm to School program, emphasizes the importance of environmental education in connecting students to the environment. Vincent says that ""as humans, we live in a society that's so disconnected from the environment, and environmental education shows how connected we all are, how connected we are to the world."" It's the way in which environmental education both connects students to the world and also reveals to students the ways in which their daily lives interact with the environment that makes it so important.
Environmental education can accomplish this by educating young students about the ways in which their behavior affects the environment, and in return, the ways in which the environment impacts them. Focus must be put on how intertwined humans are with Earth.
In response to criticism that environmental education attempts to indoctrinate children with ""tree hugger"" ideology by impressing them with global warming conspiracy theories, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued a statement about what constitutes environmental education.
The EPA statement focuses environmental education on environmental challenges, concern for the environment, motivation to improve environmental quality and skills to identify and help resolve environmental challenges. The agency is also quick to emphasize that ""Environmental education does not advocate a particular viewpoint or course of action. Rather, environmental education teaches individuals how to weigh various sides of an issue through critical thinking and it enhances their own problem-solving and decision-making skills.""
By educating our youth about the environment we are giving them the information and tools to make informed decisions. As citizens of the world we make decisions about what to buy at the grocery store, how to vote on environmental issues, how to conserve valuable resources, how to minimize carbon footprints and how to support green industry that should be informed by an education in and understanding of environmental issues. Environmental education in our public schools will train tomorrow's citizens to make informed decisions and improve the delicate relationship between humans and the environment.
Kathy Dittrich is a senior majoring in English and French. Please send all responses to email@example.com.