The evolution of environmental education approaches in some ways mirrors cultural awareness of environmental issues, urgency placed on them, and public willingness to change. While environmental education as it is currently named is only about 40 years old, its originating forms have been in existence since the turn of the 19th century (Marsden, 7-25). I have chosen to provide an overview of three different schools of thought that have been highly influential on both the evolution of environmental education, and on the development of my project.
The nature study movement is the earliest form of environmental education seen in America. The transcendentalist writings of Thoreau and Emerson were an important part of this movement and continue to be highly impactful in environmentalism. Anna Botsford Comstock is another key figure in the development of nature study. Comstock was head of the Department of Nature Study at CornellUniversity and wrote The Handbook for Nature Study, published in 1911. Comstock saw nature study as aesthetic as well as scientific. The publisher�s forward of the twenty-fourth edition of The Handbook for Nature Study describes Comstock's approach as "an opening of the eyes to the individuality, the ingenuity, and the personality of each of the unnoticed life-forms about us" (Comstock 1911). This cultivation of empathy and appreciation is a key component of nature study, and one that has been an important part of my lesson development.
Close to a hundred years later, the theory of nature study has not been completely abandoned. Steve Van Matre in his book Earth Education: A New Beginning defines and expands upon many of the philosophies of nature study, adding in some of his own terminology and calling it either earth education or nature study, interchangeably. He separates these principles into the 'whys': preserving, nurturing, and training, the 'whats': understanding, feeling and processing, and the 'ways': structuring, immersing, and relating (Van Matre 1990).Van Matre's Aclimatization program stems from his strong belief that earth education should work to acclimatize children to the natural world; the goal being that they are completely familiar and comfortable with it. "I wanted the kids to have that same feeling of security and comfortability that they have in their own homes, but with the planet itself 'our preeminent home' the earth and its communities of life" (Van Matre 1990). The Aclimatization program was held at a summer camp and functioned largely through nature immersion.
Conservation Education emerged after the Dust Bowl and Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s (McCrea 2006). Conservation education differs from Nature Study with its incorporation of scientific training into a study of natural history. The conservation education movement pioneered educational approaches still used in environmental education today, such as learning by doing, lifelong learning, integrated and interdisciplinary efforts, etc. (McCrea 2006). Publications such as Funderburk's The History of Conservation Education in the United States (1948) and Stapp's "The Concept of Environmental Education" (1969) articulate a perception of increasing urgency for social change. Dr. William Stapp calls for a public "that is knowledgeable concerning the biophysical environment and its associated problems, aware of how to help solve these problems, and motivated to work toward their solution" (Stapp 1969).
The United States Forest Service has been a significant proponent of conservation education through such advertisement campaigns as Smokey Bear, an icon that was invented in 1944 by the USFS and the Ad Council and that is still recognized by over 90% of American adults (DCNR 2009).
Environmental Education for Sustainability and Ecological Literacy
The Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental Education in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia was held in October of 1977. This was one of the many political advances of environmental education in the 1970s. Other important events include the 1970 passing of the National Environmental Education Act, the celebration of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden (1972), and a number of environmental councils, alliances, institutes, associations and offices opened throughout the decade across the globe (McCrea 2006). Increasing awareness of environmental issues has brought a heightened sense of urgency to the environmental movement, inspiring the beginning of a more issue based approach. The Tbilisi Declaration (resulting from the Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental Education) outlined the goals of environmental education as: awareness, knowledge, attitudes, skills and participation (UNESCO 1977).
�Environmental education, properly understood, should constitute a comprehensive lifelong education, one responsive to changes in a rapidly changing world. It should prepare the individual for life through an understanding of the major problems of the contemporary world, and the provision of skills and attributes needed to play a productive role towards improving life and protecting the environment with due regard given to ethical values� (UNESCO 1977).
During the period of the Tbilisi Declaration, the UK Schools� Council�s Project Environment formalized and published a three-fold structure to environmental education. This structure defines environmental education as education about, from, or for the environment, and has become cosmopolitan in the field (Palmer 1998). The introduction of this three fold approach into the field began to move environmental education towards what it is today, Environmental Education for Sustainability (EEFS). EEFS has evolved from many of the goals from the 1970s and 80s and adds a clearly defined focus on long term social change towards sustainable living (Tilbury 1995). It is this component of sustainability that clearly distinguishes EEFS and modern environmental education from its predecessors. Sustainable development can be defined as a social structuring characterized by the following three elements:
Consideration of environmental issues and objectives interdependently with economic issues and objectives
A commitment to social equity and the fair distribution of environmental benefits and costs, both geographically and across human generations
An enlarged view of "development" that extends beyond simple measures of "growth" to include qualitative improvements in daily life (Haury 1998)
EEFS therefore can be characterized by the integration of environmental education with the political, social, and economic components of society. EEFS as a movement has been involved in the development of a series of critical education goals (Appendix 7) and themes. The six themes listed below are from the President's Council on Sustainable Development, "Education for Sustainability: An Agenda for Action" (1996).
Lifelong learning within both formal and nonformal education settings.
Interdisciplinary approaches that provide themes to integrate content and issues across disciplines and curricula.
Systems thinking as a context for developing skills in problem solving, conflict resolution, consensus building, information management, interpersonal expression, and critical and creative thinking.
Partnerships between educational institutions and the broader community.
Multicultural perspectives of sustainability and approaches to problem solving.
Empowerment of individuals and groups for responsible action as citizens and communities.
Another component of modern environmental education is a drive for ecological literacy. A term coined by David Orr, ecological literacy incorporates the ability to read, count, and understand the world we are a part of; it results in knowledge of the intimate details of the systems, cycles, and organisms of the biosphere. Ecological literacy has similar goals to those of nature study and conservation education in that it advocates a familiarity with and comfort in the natural environment. It is also modern in that it advocates the holistic concept of systems thinking, which is characterized by the integration of ecological systems into social, political, and economic systems, resulting in the sustainable modeling of social structure after natural systems (Orr 2004). "Real ecological literacy is radicalizing in that it forces us to reckon with the roots of our ailments, not just with their symptoms" (Orr 1992). Ecological literacy is the only avenue to truly lead our world to environmental change, because it is the only way to evolve a community of individuals that understands the correlation between its well-being and the integrity of our natural systems (Orr 1992). Ecological literacy and the cultivation of systems thinking have been the main goals of my lesson development.