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Sierra Magazine
Last Words

What's Wrong with Environmental Education?

Teaching young people to think about the environment is as important as teaching them to read and write. Some lessons are as basic as explaining that recycling reduces the need for raw materials. Asking a kindergartner to extract chocolate chips from a cookie and then to put the crumbled cookie back together with glue makes a comprehensible point about mining's consequences.

Lois Marie Gibbs, Love Canal crusader and executive director,
Center for Health, Environment, and Justice

Ironically, the polluting corporations contending that environmental education turns kids into "green-eyed monsters" are dumping misinformation into our classrooms. For example, a video Exxon distributes rewrites the history of the worst oil spill ever as a great test for their cleanup equipment. But the reality of environmental education is learning about river water and plants under a microscope, and 96 percent of U.S. parents support it.

Marianne Manilov, executive director,
Center for Commercial-Free Public Education

Successful environmental education will encourage direct experience of nature while de-emphasizing virtual learning. Schools should refuse gifts from Apple or Whittle or Channel One, which package data and name names-corporations and processes. The enemies of nature are the false ideologies of economic growth, "progress," materialism, alienation. Teach that! Teach direct connection. Teach how to grow food. Teach how to subvert modernity.

Jerry Mander, author of In the Absence of the Sacredand co-editor of The Case Against the Global Economy

What's wrong with environmental education? What little there is is under attack.

Barbara Pyle, Turner Broadcasting System, vice president, environmental policy, and co-creator of Captain Planet

Education, for the most part, occurs in buildings with lots of squareness and straight lines. They tell no story, offer no clue about how they are maintained and at what ecological cost. They do, however, reflect a hidden curriculum suggesting that locality is unimportant, and that energy can be squandered. Students begin to suspect that the unraveling of the fabric of life on Earth is unreal, unsolvable, or occurring somewhere else. Accordingly, they learn either hypocrisy or hopelessness. It is possible, however, to design buildings that promote mindfulness. And by doing so we might help to equip our students with the analytical skills and ecological competence necessary to turn wishful thinking into genuine hopefulness.

David W. Orr, professor and chair of environmental studies, Oberlin College, and author of Ecological Literacy

Sometimes propaganda can be presented as curriculum. Some materials claim that a free-market economy is the answer to all environmental problems, others focus on myth. Neither is fair to kids in the classroom.

Jim Lester, director, Environmental Institute of Houston

Some voices are heard more strongly than others. We need to take an approach where content is influenced by and taught from multiple cultural perspectives.

Carl Anthony, executive director, Urban Habitat Program

For environmental education to matter, four points should be stressed: (1) environmental contamination is not only about the "Big Events" like the Exxon Valdez spill, but about the pervasive daily poisonings of our water, air, food, and selves; (2) this contamination is not accidental, but the inevitable result of profit-motivated shortcuts taken by executives who should be named, working in companies that should be named; (3) the polluters can be stopped but Washington won't do it for us (they're helping polluters do it to us); and (4) organize-grassroots organization moves people from being agitated to agitating, and that is what produces progress in America.

Jim Hightower, radio commentator and author of There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos


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