writing figures on chalkboard

The Literacy Gap

Environmental literacy has made tremendous progress since 1970, securing inroads within the nation's formal and informal educational systems. Today, nearly two-thirds of the nation's 2.5 million K-12 teachers include EE in their classrooms, and the majority of all students at over half of all colleges take an environmental course - just two examples of the broad reach of environmental education.

This momentum has enabled many outstanding model programs to be developed and, consequently, has exposed millions of Americans to a positive EE experience. It's no surprise, then, that 95% of all parents with children in school support having EE incorporated as a central element of the classroom.

Yet, despite this exposure to EE, the grim reality is this: Americans still widely lack the environmental knowledge that would enable them to safeguard public health, protect natural resources, support energy conservation efforts, and engage in the movement towards a more sustainable future.

How is this possible, given that more EE is happening now than thirty-five years ago? In general, the belief that nature is ours to exploit is very deeply rooted and pervasive not only within American society but within most academic disciplines and subjects as well.

Moreover, growth in formal environmental literacy programs has leveled off over the past decade at a level significantly short of critical mass. In fact, the amount of formal EE taking place at the K-12 level actually may be going down for the first time in years. One likely reason: the K-12 education establishment has yet to take EE seriously. Compounding this problem is the fact that certain elements of the No Child Left Behind Act are causing teachers to unnecessarily drop EE from their classes in favor of material that is more directly related to state competency tests. (Ironically, EE is proven to be effective in actually improving students' scores on these mandated tests.)

In short, while the demand and need for EE is great, a number of reasons have inhibited EE from reaching its capacity - thereby leaving an environmentally illiterate America in its wake. The result: an American society incapable of achieving the environmentally sustainable growth that alone will maintain and enhance a high quality of life.