If you were to walk into any American classroom today, you will find that the majority of instruction is focused on English and math. With such intense attention on the core curriculum, students are missing out on the opportunity to learn about the world around them. Our children deserve to know about the world they come from, and the world they will someday inherit.
The natural world is a subject that is seldom touched on in the early grades. In fact, in the state of California, science education, let alone environmental science, is not strictly required until the 4th grade. If we expect to see any great, positive change in our environment, this simply can’t be the case.
This semester, I had the opportunity to work in a San Francisco elementary school teaching students about environmental issues, and it has been one of the most transformative experiences of my college career. It is clear to me that change must occur in our narrowly-focused education system. By altering the currently accepted, deep-rooted models of public education, and implementing new techniques, we can empower students with the knowledge of the natural world they so sorely lack.
Unfortunately, the current public education system puts excessive weight on teaching strategies primarily geared toward improving standardized test scores, which means an excessive focus on mathematics and the language arts. Introducing environmental education early and more frequently can break that cycle by doing two things: introducing an important topic and being able to implement innovative teaching methods.
Environmental education is the perfect opportunity to address the intelligences of visual, kinesthetic and naturalistic learners, who have usually played second fiddle to learners who are math or reading-oriented. When students are physically involved in their education, they create a context in which they can deepen their understanding of any concept.
For example, the program with which I work, Environmental Education for the Next Generation (EENG), implements the small group model and hands-on learning for K-2nd grade environmental science. One unique quality of EENG is its youth to youth education: college students teach the lessons! By working through interactive games and experiments with their college student-instructor, each student is shown how natural systems work and in the process gain the tools and knowledge necessary to apply to other questions that cross their paths.
We are living in a world where our societal practices and actions can no longer be sustained. We have lost sight of our relationship to our earth and it’s making us sick. Environmental education is about inspiring young minds to see and make real change happen. We cannot solve our world issues over night, but we can start change now by being responsible for our actions and giving our children the tools necessary to preserve our future.
For more information on the EENG program, contact Max Binstock, firstname.lastname@example.org