Environmental ed takes on social challenges

Happy Earth Day!

Environmental education has undergone a revolution since the first Earth Day 40 years ago, as I describe in a story I wrote for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun, which I called “The Evolution of Environmental Education.”

Poulsbo Elementary first-grader Ella Jagodzinske, 7, looks for worms under a rock in the school's courtyard wildlife habitat.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

Now in Washington state, requirements approved by the state Superintendent of Public Instruction are designed to take another huge step in preparing young people to understand all sorts of environmental tradeoffs and write environmental policies for the coming decades.

The word “sustainability” is emphasized in the new “Integrated Environmental and Sustainability Education Learning Standards.” Unlike other educational standards, this new approach does not include specific grade-level expectations.

The standards call for an understanding of: 1) Ecological, social and economic systems, 2) the natural and built environment, and 3) sustainability and civic responsibility.

I hope you’ll read the Sunday piece, which includes an interactive map of environmental programs and projects across the Kitsap Peninsula. You’ll meet Lisa Hawkins, a first-grade teacher who built an outdoor classroom — a certified wildlife habitat — in a courtyard at Poulsbo Elementary School.

This amazing young teacher has a special relationship with her students, especially when they are exploring freely and finding connections among living things.

Here are some links for creating habitats to foster environmental learning at all grade levels.

National Wildlife Federation

Time Out: Using the Outdoors to Enhance Classroom Performance

Certify Your Wildlife Garden

Creative Habitats for Learning

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Schoolyard Habitat Project (Chesapeake)

Schoolyard Habitat Program (Sacramento)

Lisa Hawkins, first-grade teacher at Poulsbo Elementary, engages her students in the wildlife habitat she and an earlier class created in a courtyard at the school.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

7 thoughts on “Environmental ed takes on social challenges

  1. The young acolytes will be taught “civic responsibility” with their environmental education? Civic responsibility according to whom? Are the kids being taught “it is your civic responsibility” to pay taxes? Or “it is your civic responsibility” to question authority? Can you get us some specifics on what civic “responsibilities” are being taught. The rest of us might want to be “responsible”.

    BTW… the integration of “civic responsibility” and other political influences into the sciences will further erode public faith in those disciplines. I suppose the powers that be, though, feel they are adequately positioned so that their ox won’t be the one gored. Ultimately; however, undermining the sanctity of scientific disciplines harms our long-term ability to affect meaningful societal change.

  2. Thanks, Cameron. I see the standards perpetuate the notion that tribal “culture” is synonymous with “sustainability”. Those campaign contributions just keep paying off, don’t they? Let’s see… raise kids to believe tribes are born stewards of the environment. Instill a fervor to lobby on behalf of the environment. Voila! Tribal advocacy and a further tilting of our governance to a tribal minority. For the environment, natch.

  3. As parents, my husband and I have needed to increase every year the amount of dedicated home time spent on this topic with our own child.

    Explaining, clarifying and correcting the almost cult like seduction being taught of loving the earth above all else and hating the human society for having the audacity to even exist. We counter the daily din of gimmicks pushed by the education system for our own child become involved in everything green because it is fun and popular to do so with a more practical approach of getting out and experiencing the wonders of nature, respecting the outdoors, recycling what we can, leaving things the way we would want to find them and properly husbanding the natural resources we have.

    We are teaching him that you don’t need big fancy splashy programs, random designated days of the year, celebrity spokespeople or over the top fundraisers to do your part quietly and consistently and still be a good citizen at every level including for the environmental responsibility portion.

    We are teaching him the right ways that make it ok to hunt, fish, hike, camp, drive cars and ride ATV’s and still enjoy the life you have and not “kill” the planet.

    Most importantly we are teaching him not to be a hypocrite about it.

  4. Colleen, I’m curious, in what ways are the school system perpetrating those things you are accusing them of? Can you provide specific examples?

  5. From the standards document: “Additionally, the Integrated Environmental and Sustainability Education Learning Standards align with the state’s Indian Education curriculum, “Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State.” Environment and sustainability are key elements currently integrated into this powerful curriculum.”

    You think fourth graders come up with Chetzemoka all by themselves?

  6. Sure Cameron,

    Yesterday, my son brought home a “booklet” that each child in his class made. I was not made of paper that had been recycled and was heavily dyed. Environmentally safe glue did not appear to be used. Preprinted statements from an environmental curriculum book had been copied onto pieces of white paper were then cut and glued into the booklet. I asked him to read it to me when he got home. He did. I asked him what it meant and what he learned. He repeated a bunch of standard talking points that had been “taught” to him and supported the pre-printed statements. I questioned him further about additional explanations that might have been given by the school on what those talking points actually translate to in the real world and how it would affect his behavior. None were forthcoming except that littering was bad, cutting trees down was bad and using natural resources was bad. No follow through setup in the months or weeks ahead to explain the complexities as to why, just that it is bad. But the class did discuss how pretty and fun constructing the booklets were. The booklet that is now residing in my recycle bin.

    Problems with this as a parent? If the schools are going to “teach” something. Then teach it and be complete about it. Limited drive by lip service to sporadic topics, as a classroom requirement simply because one day has been set aside for pop culture “awareness” is a disservice to everyone. Unless the awareness is taught in a way that translates into actual learning, understanding balances and behavioral changes on a daily basis, it means nothing except that it has taken valuable staffing time and limited school supplies away from important subjects that do matter in the way of life and career skills which are taught in a more complete, consistent and long term fashion.

    A good example I used with my son last night, was about what kids really learned about “saving the planet and keeping it green”. I reminded him that a few nights before, we headed over the school after dinner to use the track (I blogged about this experience on another post this week) and how we needed to pick up all the garbage of water bottles, fruit roll up wrappers and napkins that littered the field from other “kid” activities that had occurred there. I asked him if just talking to kids about how recycling keeps the earth green, really changed anything in this situation or helped the earth stay green. He personally understood in that moment that it did not. There is a lesson he did not learn in school but from his parent who actually pays atttention to what he is exposed to in the school and then follows through and makes sure he actually “learns” and has a complete understanding of the ENTIRE situation.

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