Integrating environmental education into classroom instruction

Rhianne Cofer & Alexander Nichols

Remember being a joyful, over energetic youngster in kindergarten having your teacher discuss things ranging from the alphabet to simple addition and subtraction? If yes, you should also probably remember your teacher promoting recycling and the disposing of trash properly, right? This type of moral education related to eco-friendly habits is often neglected in most comprehensive schools’ curricula. However, this type of instruction is crucial in promoting pro-environmental behavior.

Unfortunately though, many people in the United States are severely undereducated when it comes to basic environmental principles. According to the Campaign for Environmental Literacy, “two-thirds of the public fail even a basic environmental quiz and a whopping 88% of the public fail a basic energy quiz.” Because of this lack of environmental literacy, much of the public is very uninformed during elections or campaigns that have to deal with nationwide environmental policy. If, as a whole, we don’t know enough about the environment and sustainable practices to begin with, how can we even hope to enact meaningful legislation that could change the way our country deals with the environment?

A novel and innovative approach is required in order to prevent the spread of this national crisis of environmental illiteracy in the public sector. Referencing antebellum and twentieth-century educational philosophers and theorists like Johann Pestalozzi and Charlotte Hawkins Brown, respectively, they felt agricultural education should be in schools’ curriculum and that there should be a plethora of field trips to the outdoors in order to foster a sense of connectedness to nature in all students before they become (hopefully) affluent members of society. Too many schools have forgotten these educational foundations, and the ones that still incorporate these practices are few and far between. The education of being eco- friendly and sustainable is essential in any functioning society and needs to start from a young age, then fostered and enforced through the student’s continuation of schooling.

Elementary schools should introduce the ideas in a fun and constructive manner as not to lose the child’s attention and curiosity about the subject. The utilization of Froebel’s play method and gifts would be a great approach in helping students learn about being environmentally sustainable without making it look like formal instruction through active, participation based projects and recreation (e.g. nature walks, recycling activities, and maintaining a garden). Middle schools are to continue this in a more formal manner with direct implications as to why pro- environmental behavior is important through guided assignments and prescribed readings. High schools take another method and allow students to practice these developed habits through organizations and clubs like the Environmental Team or Gardening Club. And finally, higher education is simply meant to reinforce the principle ideas taught from earlier schooling with guest lectures and research funding opportunities.

So, how does Davidson compare to the rest of the country? The college offers students an Environmental Studies major, along with many different classes pertaining to environmental sciences. Yet something worth mentioning is the fact that many habits are formed long before we even reach college. By the time students get out of high school and into college, they have already divided themselves into groups of recyclers and non-recyclers, Prius drivers and Hummer drivers, composters and food-wasters. That is precisely why environmental education at a young age is so terribly important.

By forming healthy and sustainable habits in little kids and getting them interested in caring more about the planet, we can encourage them to take this passion with them into the world. Because of this, Davidson’s major environmental mission should be to focus on honing the knowledge and awareness of its students so they can take these habits and actions into their own hands. We should then take it upon ourselves to teach and encourage younger generations to do the same.

Rhianne Cofer `19 is a Biology and Environmental Studies double major from Norfolk, VA. Contact her at rhcofer@davidson.edu

Alexander Nichols `19 is an Education Policy Studies major and Ethnic Studies minor from Lithia Springs, GA. Contact him at alnichols@davidson.edu

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