The Need for Nationwide Environmental Education in Public Schools

 In Education, Intentions
The Great Gathering Tiny Fungi

As teaching to standardized tests and “core curriculum” becomes the increasing norm in classrooms all over America, many people are worried that programs like art, music, physical education and other “extras” will get less attention and classroom time. One of these “endangered” programs is environmental education, classes which teach students about concepts like ecosystems, as well as the impact that human behavior can have on these systems. However, for academic and economic reasons, the need for this education is more important than ever.

Environmental Education Improves Overall Academic Performance
Environmental education, combining as it does hands-on activities and experiences with traditional bookwork and study, has the power to engage students in ways which many other subjects cannot. Combining a lecture on water pollution, for instance, with a stream clean-up in a local park can show students the real-life impact of human activities on the environment while also empowering them to make changes that can make the world better. Studies have shown that including environmental education in the curriculum not only helps students’ performance in science, but also in inter-related areas like social studies, history and language arts.

Environmental Education Prepares Kids for Future Ecological Challenges
The need for environmental education has never been greater. The potentially devastating impacts of climate change, air and water pollution, deforestation, and the loss of top soil are among the many challenges which will face the younger generation. A good basis of ecological knowledge will help this generation to understand the relationship between human behavior and environmental degradation. More importantly, it will also help them to figure out ways in which we can protect both environmental and human health. Right now, we are no where near this level of knowledge: recent studies from the National Education Foundation have shown that 75% of Americans fail a basic environmental knowledge quiz, and a whopping 86% fail a quiz on energy issues.

Environmental Education Prepares Kids for the 21st Century Workforce
Apart from improving overall student performance and giving our kids the education they need to face the challenges which lay before us, there is a sound economic reason why we need environmental education to be included in the curriculum. Leaders in the business community are increasingly becoming aware of the advantages of an environmentally literate workforce, especially to fill the multitude of “green jobs” which will be an important part of the economy in the future. These often well-paid but highly-skilled jobs require a firm grounding in science that is sadly lacking in the American curriculum. The proof of this is how poorly American students score on standardized tests, especially in comparison with students in Europe or Japan.

The good news is that states are becoming increasingly aware of this need. It is estimated that some 40 out of the 50 states now have some form of environmental literacy as part of their curriculum and enrollment in advanced placement environmental education classes has grown by a staggering 426% in recent years. However, a concerted, nationwide effort is needed to make sure that all students have access to environmental education as part of their education, not just to boost academic achievement but to prepare them for the workforce and environmental challenges of the future.

Sources
National Education Association www.nea.org
Campaign for Environmental Literacy www.fundee.org

by The Great Gathering
Copyright The Great Gathering 2014©

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