Research on Teachers' Attitudes and Understandings of Interrelationships among Energy, Environment, and Public Policy

Article excerpt

This interdisciplinary project involved science and social studies educators in an experientially-based program that emphasized the interrelationships among energy, environment, economics, and politics. The influence of the institute on teachers' attitudes and understandings relative to these areas was examined. Results showed significant shifts in teachers' attitudes and opinions toward energy resources and policy-making. The teachers' understandings of the interrelationships among energy, environment, and public policy were enhanced so they could formulate philosophical positions and make informed decisions regarding these issues.

Introduction

Finding solutions to our energy needs concerns all segments of the American society. Issues related to types of energy, costs, and environmental impacts will continue to be primary concerns well into the twenty-first century. Will the American public turn away from gasoline-powered automobiles in favor of those powered by natural gas or electric motors? Will we develop an efficient form of mass transportation? How will our houses be heated and cooled? What kinds of energy sources will run our business and industries? What will be the roles of businesses, industry, the federal government and the educational system in the decision making process?

The awareness of energy related issues and the major impact it has on our society has prompted educators to begin exploring the topic with students. Students need to investigate the energy decisions facing our country along with all the other countries of the world if our society is to survive. The need for energy education in the schools caused a group of science and social studies educators to develop and implement a national interdisciplinary program in energy education that includes the development of energy related teaching materials.

The project, titled Energy, Environment, and Policy Choices: Summer Institutes for Science and Social Studies Educators, was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The three year grant provided the funds to establish the Center for Energy Education (CEE). The CEE is a troika linking the United States Department of Energy, the University of Oklahoma, and the Close Up Foundation(1).

Beginning at the Energy Center on OU's campus, 57 program participants from across the country examined concepts and issues related to energy and environment, and how the interdependence of energy and environment significantly influences daily life. During the second week of the institute, participants went to Washington, D.C., to examine the processes government officials use to make critical decisions involving interrelationships between energy, environment, and public policy.

The experiences and activities of the summer institute integrated the highly technological data of the rapidly changing energy field with the environmental impacts of energy utilization and its economic and political impacts. Participants engaged in discussions and activities that illustrated the complex interrelationships among energy, environment and public policy. Such experiences were designed to help these teachers attain an understanding of these interrelationships and to formulate ideas and opinions needed to make informed, logical decisions, the knowledge prepared teachers to help their students learn about energy and environment issues and develop thinking processes necessary to make informed decisions that affect society.

Theoretical Foundations and Purposes

Previous research in energy education has explored attitudes and opinions about energy resources, environmental issues and socioeconomic concerns (Jackson, 1985). This research focused on individuals' opinions of energy as "technocentric" or "ecocentric" (O'Riordan, 1976). Technocentrism is the view that the biosphere has unlimited resources, and technology should continue to develop to tap such resources, solve related environmental problems, and to foster economic growth and sustain the quality of life (in material terms). …

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