Coloring a Green Generation: The Law and Policy of Nationally-Mandated Environmental Education and Social Value Formation at the Primary and Secondary Academic Levels

By Stohr, Whitney | Journal of Law and Education, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview
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Coloring a Green Generation: The Law and Policy of Nationally-Mandated Environmental Education and Social Value Formation at the Primary and Secondary Academic Levels


Stohr, Whitney, Journal of Law and Education


I. INTRODUCTION

"In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."1 "Today's children are the global citizens of tomorrow. They influence their families and shape their attitudes, and thereby society. So, children during their formative years, when they are most receptive to messages and information, need to be educated about the environment and the long-term impact of our present actions. This will have a cascading effect on society."2

"Today, more than ever, a world-class education is a prerequisite for success. America was once the best educated nation in the world.... It is not that [foreign] students are smarter than ours. It is that these countries are being smarter about how to educate their students. And the countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow."3

On a fall afternoon in the State of Andhra Pradesh, India, children attend local schools, laughing and playing in schoolyards and studying mathematics, science and language in classrooms. When the afternoon bell rings, students pour out of nearby elementary schools, homework in tow. Some run towards waiting parents and others trek home, laughing and joking with friends; many others rush eagerly into an empty classroom. Dressed in uniform, these students represent the Green Brigade, young cadets of the school's eco-club.4 As the vanguard of India's modern environmental movement, these students form part of an expansive government-sponsored after-school program designed to teach youth about the environment.

Half a world away, students in Brazilian primary schools learn about the environment pursuant to a national mandate calling for a curriculumwide approach to environmental education (hereinafter "EE").5 Educators integrate EE into mathematics, science and history, demonstrating to students the far-reaching impact of environmental learning. In Australia, schools participate in the national Sustainable Schools Initiative, a wholeschool approach to EE emphasizing the importance of sustainable development and increasing students' knowledge and management ability of energy, water, biodiversity and natural landscapes.'' The Australian plan adopts a holistic approach and pervades every facet of school operations, facilities, and the local community. In many western European countries, EE similarly plays a significant role in education. Due to national-level academic reform and investment in environmental literacy programs, the Netherlands' education policy fosters forward-looking initiatives by combining traditional EE and education focused on sustainable development.7

Whether EE develops by government mandate (the Netherlands) or federal initiative (Australia), directed curricular reform (Brazil), or a combination of formal instruction and non-formal community education (India), a growing number of countries around the world recognize the need for nationwide EE. The maturation of education policy in this field generally derives from three common, interrelated notions. First, although long acknowledged, the unprecedented magnitude of worldwide environmental degradation continues to mount, as it has over the preceding decades. The international community increasingly calls attention to environmental harm as a global problem unrestrained by national boundaries or geographic impediments. The second is an overwhelming consensus among scientists concerning the role of human activity in creating or exacerbating environmental harms. And third, a growing number of policymakers acknowledge that the mitigation and eventual resolution of environmental degradation require a substantial transformation in human behavior and value formation through public education.

Although environmental regulation at the national level generally lacks precise uniformity, one thing remains certain: the modern environmental movement is not a fad, ebbing and flowing with the currents of political change.

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