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.