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Authors challenge basis of US environmental education

By John Dean - 18 May 2011 10:8:4 GMT
Authors challenge basis of US environmental education

Two American authors have challenged the way schools teach children about the environment and have argued that widespread change is needed.

Conservationist Charles Saylan and university life scientist Daniel T. Blumstein, from UCLA, have made their comments in their book The Failure of Environmental Education (And How We Can Fix It), published this week by the University of California Press.

Prof Blumstein, Chair of the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, argues that educational failures threaten the future of the planet.

He said: ''Americans like to think we are doing a great job educating our kids about the environment, but there has been a major disconnect between raising awareness about the environment and taking action to reduce environmental degradation.''

''We believe environmental destruction - pollution, global warming, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, over-harvesting resources, to name a few - is ruining the Earth and that students should be taught to preserve the Earth.''

''The world will be a very different place by the end of this century. Is that a world we want for our kids and our grandkids?''

Supporting his views, Charley Saylan, who is co-founder and executive director of the Ocean Conservation Society, said: ''Environmental education has failed to keep pace with environmental degradation.''

The authors recommend much more integration of environmental education into the overall curriculum in schools, rather than teaching it separately.

Prof Blumstein said: ''When you're learning math, why not learn about a carbon audit or an environmental issue? Students can learn about projected climate-change scenarios, what acidification is and the effects of pollution. Teachers and schools can develop all kinds of creative, integrative educational experiences.''

''This generation of young people and the next generation to follow will have to solve a lot of environmental problems. We are facing one of the largest collective action problems humanity has ever faced, and we need to give students the skills to solve them. Education has to be an important part of the solution to environmental destruction; we have given the generation in school and those that follow big marching orders.''

According to Charles Saylan: ''Neighbourhood recycling programs and plastic bag bans are great but unlikely to save us from serious impacts of global climate change. Actions must be commensurate in magnitude to the problems they are intended to mitigate. Environmental education must nurture the social awareness and engagement necessary to convert words and ideas into measurable action.''

''Environmentalism is no longer a choice. All of us who breathe need to be environmentalists now; our future and our children's future depend on it.''