Finding Environmental Education in the National Science Education Standards

By Brown, Fletcher | Electronic Green Journal, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Finding Environmental Education in the National Science Education Standards


Brown, Fletcher, Electronic Green Journal


Most disciplines in our K-16 educational system now have national standards that are used as a guide for state and regional curriculum development. While most teachers are familiar with their own national and regional standards few have the time to familiarize themselves with how other standards overlap and integrate with their own discipline. This review summarizes the congruence and divergence of the National Science Education Standards (NSES) and the national goals set for environmental education (EE). Upon review of the science standards it was found that many of the components of EE could be found in the NSES. Of the five major themes of EE the component involving issue analysis and problem solving was found to be most lacking. It is recommended that the components of EE be more clearly identified in the science standards as well as EE's primary goal of promoting environmentally responsible behavior.

In 1996, the National Research Council published a document entitled the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996). This document was the end product of years of work by representatives from all major disciplines in the teaching and learning of science. The Standards' primary goal is for all students to achieve scientific literacy. While use of this document is not mandated for high school teachers or school curriculum coordinators, it is arguably the most comprehensive and integrative document about how and what we teach in science. The extent to which the standards are used is yet to be seen. It has the potential to become the central unifying document that all individuals and groups refer in teaching and learning science. At a minimum, future funding from the major government organizations in science education will expect applicants to refer to and implement its principles.

Over the last three decades environmental education (EE) has shown an increased prominence in K-12 school curriculum across the country. EE, while not solely science based, is dominated by concepts commonly found under the rubric of science. One look at a sampling of environmental education focused curriculum will show students engaged in all major science disciplines including biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics. While the science standards have a significant degree of acceptance in the K-12 schools, EE has had significant opposition to its inclusion in traditional education. A number of anti-environmental education initiatives have been launched in the recent years asserting the EE is biased and full of "soft science." Michael Sanera recently published a book entitled Facts not Fears (Sanera & Shaw, 1999) that outlines how EE is making our children fearful of regarding human interaction with the environment. Sanera claims educators should be teaching students scientific facts about human impact on resources rather than generalizations based on incomplete research and evidence. Corporate America has responded as well to the influx of EE in the K-12 schools (Williams, 2000). Some energy-based companies claim that EE is showing just one side of the story regarding environmental problems and have started to create and implement their own EE school curriculum. In addition, companies have begun aggressive advertising campaigns aimed at educating the populace about how environmentally friendly they are in contrast to the messages they see being sent by the EE field.

As a teacher or curriculum coordinator where environmental education is a part of the existing curricula, it will be important to understand not only what EE is but also where the components of environmental education can be found in the national science standards. It is hoped that this information will help support and justify EE's presence in K-12 education as pressure from the anti-environmental movement mounts on schools and educators. Below is a review of the National Science Education Standards aimed at identifying and analyzing the science standards within the context of EE.

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