The Key to Life or Death: An Environmental Education Standard
Joe woke up one morning and looked out his window. What he saw startled him: a barren landscape, a desolate land for miles, and the absence of vegetation. He got up, rubbed his eyes, and thought what he witnessed was all part of a dream. Joe walked outside, only to be thrown back by the horrendous smell of toxic chemicals, heat generated from the greenhouse effect and gruesome after effects of acid rain. There are rusted and eroded cars lying around; millions of dead ants scour the baked topsoil. His final thought, before he radioactively melted, how did this all happen?
Life on earth could possibly be like this if people do not change their ways in which they handle the environment. If people do not change their current treatment of the environment, a desolate uninhabitable earth will replace this pristine planet. The scientific facts are there to support that we have been destroying our environment, funding is out there to support groups to help the environment, and educational programs are in place to bring awareness. So why are humans still hurting the earth? One possibility is the teachers. It seems that the educators do not teach about conservation or how to save the environment. Their reasoning stems from the fact that the teaching materials are controversial and confusing. If it is not the teachers, then it must be the educational materials. In order to bring about changes to peoples treatment of the environment, universal standards in the curriculum and methodology of environmental education must be developed and implemented at the educational level.
Governments throughout the globe fund projects to increase ecological awareness through environmental education; unfortunately, the education being taught is riddled with problems. The problem with people is that there is “so much confusion and conflicting opinions about both environmental issues and environmentally responsible behavior” (Smith-Sebato 33). The confusion arises because, on one hand, critics of environmental education say that people “are being fed doomsday visions of the future and biased and incomplete scientific information about everything”, while advocates have stated that the education that people receive are sensible and give a better understanding of human impacts on the environment (Schimdt 1828). These “doomsday visions” misinform people by telling them that one wrong action against the environment will lead to the earths destruction (Schimdt 1828). Granted that this information usually comes from extremist groups, it does lend to the clout in environmental education. The biased information stems from textbooks that make readers feel guilty about the way they live:
In the United States, fuel is wasted and used carelessly. The United States has 6 percent of the worlds population but uses 35 percent of the energy available in the worldHeated pools and hot tubs are seen as necessities in some parts of the United States. This is not true for other countries. (Schimdt 1829)
This is an example of bias in textbooks. From this, one gets the impression that U.S. citizens are the problem and if an American reader was to glance at this, he or she would feel guilty about the luxuries that he or she owns. The guilt factor, while it is one way for allowing people to realize that their actions and comforts are damaging the environment, also hinders progress and productivity. Critics say that education should not make people feel awful for their actions, but let them realize that they need to change their habits and treatment of the environment. Advocates would see the example as fact, and it should make people realize, specifically U.S. citizens, that their living habits are the only contributors to the deterioration of the environment. Change should come to the U.S. citizens, because it is proven that their actions hurt the environment. These two opposing sides provide a problem in environmental education because they are always arguing what should and should not be taught to people. The solution would be to organize the information in a complete, unquestionable manner, so that people will be aware of the environmental problem and stop their destructive actions.
Once the education materials and practices are set in place, teaching it to the population would be the next task. Teaching the population is easy, since studies have shown various ways of teaching environmental education. In one study conducted by Smith-Sebato, people that took an environmental studies course that concentrated on an “internal locus of control for reinforcement for environmentally responsible behavior” (33) led to more environmentally responsible people. The internal locus of control describes people who believe that ability, effort, or their own actions determine what happens to them. The internal locus of control pertains to the environment by showing people that their actions determine how the environment will be affected. For example, recycled cans take ninety-five percent less energy than making new ones. The energy saved from the recycled cans are equivalent to powering the city of Pittsburgh for 6 years. By showing that peoples actions do affect the environment, people will realize and change their habits to restore the environment. This is just one of many ways people have been taught environmental education. Unfortunately, these various teaching methods also contribute to the confusion, because one cannot discern which method is superior. Every study has its own scientific data that exhibits improved behavioral changes in the treatment of the environment. Again, no universal standard of education has been developed, so the effectiveness of education has not been of the full extent. Until environmental education becomes universal and standardized, people will not change their current habits, continuing to hurt the environment.
After the educational curriculum is in place for people to learn about the environment and how they can change their behavior patterns to help the environment, teachers must then educate the people. Unfortunately, the teachers do not teach because in a study conducted my N.J. Smith-Sebasto and Theresa L. Smith, they found in two states, where environmental education was compulsory in high school, that the teachers refused to teach the curriculum because there was “not enough preparation time, not enough class time, and not enough knowledge or background” (Smith-Sebasto and Smith 35). Due to these reasons, the teachers passed up teaching environmental education. Teachers have positive attitudes toward the law and want to educate the children, but they “do not value it enough to prepare themselves to be environmental educators”(Smith-Sebasto and Smith 35). If this study is representative of all environmental educators, then changes in the curriculum are not enough to bring change in peoples attitudes and actions on the environment because teachers will contend that time and lack of knowledge on the material are factors that convince them not to teach. Teachers must then be knowledgeable themselves in order to instruct. But how much teachers must know in order for them to teach is debatable too. Smith-Sebasto and Smith say that “it is easy to be an environmental educator: One simply has to claim to be one; and it has been easy to be a proponent of environmental education: One simply has to claim to be one” (Smith-Sebasto and Smith 35). If this is true, then there is another factor of confusion to environmental education. Now, there is no distinction between an environmental educator and the ordinary citizen; whom can one believe as an environmental educator? Where does one go in order to receive the proper knowledge if they want to change? In the status quo, one cannot go to a specific person, because there is no distinction between the environmental educators and the frauds. Change can only come about by defining what environmental educators must know, teaching the educators what they need to know, and educators are willing to give their time to teach it.
Unfortunately, there are no standards in the methodology and instruction in teaching environmental education. In the United States, environmental education is left up to each state, and it is up to them to construct the curriculum for teaching. Fortunately, various national laws have been enacted to show that change is coming in the right direction. In 1995, the National Science Education Standards recognized “earth science as a distinct discipline” (Bybee and Pratt 16). With this in mind, people do understand the value of learning about the earth and the environment. Sadly, it is not enough. While the enactment provides a scientific basis of environmental education by acknowledging earth science, it does not cover how ones actions affects the environment and how one can change his or her treatment of the environment. Half of the formula for environmental education is there; now it is up to the rest of humanity to take the next step and bring about the new universal standard in education so that humans can stop the utter destruction of the earth.
Until humanity shapes up and develops a universal curriculum that is not riddled with problems, awareness that human actions are deteriorating the environment will never be realized. This universal standard must be easy so that it can be understood by everyone, but factual and real enough so that people will perceive and think about their next actions concerning the environment. When the educational principles are intact, then the methods of teaching must be revamped. The educators must be confident, willing to teach, and be well taught themselves in environmental education. Through these two initiatives, a more aware and cleaner environment will arise. Until then, humanity will suffer the fate of an ugly, pollution-ridden earth which will lead to the demise of people.