Is Environmental Education Just 'Green' Propaganda?

By Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 4, 1997 | Go to article overview

Is Environmental Education Just 'Green' Propaganda?


Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


'Don't waste things!" teachers have been exhorting children for generations. "And if you make a mess, clean it up!"

Sound advice for life, perhaps. But when those lessons in personal conduct and civic virtue extend to complex and controversial issues like dwindling rain forests or global warming, it can create political fireworks.

The latest environmental battleground, it seems, is not a patch of old-growth forest but a grade school classroom. Critics say teachers, in cahoots with activists, have been disguising propaganda as environmental education - and as a result have crossed the line from teaching to advocacy. Stories abound of youngsters mailing off letters to lawmakers about clean-air legislation, boycotting businesses for allegedly polluting, and bringing home supper-time stories about how adults (read: their parents) are threatening the earth. "School children across America are being scared green by environmental education," says Michael Sanera, research fellow at the conservative Claremont Institute and co-author of "Facts Not Fear:A Parent's Guide to Teaching Children About the Environment." The latest critique came this week when a panel of distinguished scientists reported "potentially serious flaws in a critical part of our children's education." "Many high school environmental science textbooks ... provide superficial coverage of science. Others mix science with advocacy," reports the Independent Commission on Environmental Education, organized last year by the George C. Marshall Institute, a private research group. Some public officials, in fact, promote educational policies that could be viewed as advocacy. In a letter accompanying Massachusetts's environmental education guide, state Secretary of Environmental Affairs Trudy Coxe said: "Educators are a key element in the effort to improve the understanding of our ecosystems and to promote environmentally conscious lifestyles." Environmental education advocates acknowledge the controversy. "Is it brainwashing our kids? Is it junk science? These are the questions that are coming up," says Kevin Coyle, president of the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation, a nonprofit organization. …

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