If We Are So Smart, Why Do We Need Environmental Education?

Article excerpt

The ERIC bibliographic database has more than 18,500 citations related to a broadly defined concept of environmental education (nature education or outdoor education or ecology education). Nearly 9,900 are periodical articles and nearly 8,800 are ERIC documents (ED). The oldest citation retrieved is a 125-page report, Conservation Education in Rural Schools: Yearbook, published in February 1943, by Effie C. Bathurst, and the most recent (as of February 7, 2008) is the journal article, "How Does Your Garden Grow? Teaching Preschool Children about the Environment" by Susan D. Witt and Katherine P. Kimple, published in Early Child Development and Care in January 2008.

For millennia humans have recorded their impressions about their surroundings. Long before there were written languages, people created images on cave walls, stone tablets, pottery, and sculptures. Today we rely on the instantaneous electronic transmission of ideas, perceptions, and concepts about the places - our environments - where we live, work and play. Our interactions with other peoples, species, and resources in these environments provide us with learning experiences. These experiences, in turn, provide us with an awareness of who we are and how we are related to all that is around us. This is the essence of environmental education: to study and explore the living and nonliving natural resources that surround us and to better understand the complexities of their interactions, to quantify their existence, and assure their viability; all while fostering a sense of responsibility and respect for all of those resources. The best way to promote that responsibility and respect is development of environmental education in the context of providing a greater understanding of the scientific basis of those natural resources in settings to demonstrate the socioeconomic, political, and cultural relationships that will forge a better understanding for environmentally responsible and sustainable behaviors.

For many decades a number of environmental organizations, such as the National Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society, and the Sierra Club, have used environmental education to solicit support for their causes. Conservation groups, such as Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, and more regional groups like the Adirondack Mountain Club have a long history of developing a wide range of environmental, nature, or outdoor education programs. These environmental education activities have been provided through their attempts to educate the public at-large about specific issues related to the need for conserving natural resources, improving ecological conditions on which plants and animals are dependent for their survival, and assuring the healthy quality of environmental conditions to maintain or improve a perceived quality of life and living.

So important was this new and emerging concept of environmental education that the U.S. Congress enacted a law to provide and protect it:

The National Environmental Educat ion Act (NEEA) of 1990 calls on the EPA to provide national leadership to increase environmental literacy. The Act encourages partnerships and builds upon longstanding ef forts conducted in the environmental educat ion f ield by Federal and State agencies, educational inst itut ions, non-prof it organizat ions, and the pr ivate sector. To implement the Act , EPA's Environmental Educat ion Division in Washington, DC, along with support from environmental educat ion coordinators in the 10 Regional EPA of f ices, has developed the following mission and goals .

The mission is to advance and suppor t educat ion ef forts to develop an environmentally conscious and responsible public, and to inspire in all individuals a sense of personal responsibility for the care of the environment .

The goals include: expand communicat ion and partnerships; educate youth to protect the environment ; promote the pursuit of environmental careers; educate the adult public to increase environmental literacy; and educate across international boundaries. …