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Teaming with Life: Section V

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Assure that EnvironmentalEducation is Centered on Science


"...science and educationare important allies in preserving the environment. ...a solid grasp ofscience and ecology is indeed the first step toward a cleaner world." WilliamJ. Clinton, 18 October 1997


"We will propose [that] theschools and students of the world ... study environmental information ona daily basis..."

Albert Gore, Jr.,21 March 1994

The natural world providesa host of goods and services that are used every day by every human being,and yet there is an alarming lack of understanding among the public thatthis is so. An electorate that does not understand the natural world orthe nature of the tradeoffs that must be made in managing it wisely andsustainably cannot make informed decisions. Communities that do not havean understanding of the workings of the ecosystems within which they livewill be unable to function as responsible stewards, and will thereby toooften cause and suffer from losses of biodiversity and ecosystem services.The National Biological Information Infrastructure described in the previoussection will make all manner of biodiversity and ecosystems informationavailable to the voting populace as well as to governments. The recipientsof that information, however, will need some fundamental knowledge in orderto apply the information wisely and effectively. This knowledge must comefrom both formal classroom and informal education.

There are many benefits thatcome from investments in education: a more informed populace, high cost-effectiveness,and more scientifically literate citizens. Informal education is very costeffective, and people enjoy learning informally because they have controlover the timing and topics (without tests and grades). When people enjoyeducational experiences, they value the lessons more and remember themlonger, and they are more motivated to seek further learning.  

Increase opportunitiesfor informal and participatory education about biodiversity and ecosystems,for student-scientist interactions, and for continuing education for K-12teachers.

Student-scientist partnershipssuch as those engendered by the school-based Global Learning and Observationsto Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program are an extremely valuable activitythat benefits not only the students' educational experience but also thescientific projects themselves. There are many organizations that promotethis sort of interaction both within government agencies and in the privatesector. Some partnerships of this type have expanded to include the participationof community groups, museums, Federal agencies, and city, state and countygovernments. An example is the two-year-old "Chicago Wilderness" project.This community effort to document and restore the wild areas in and aroundthe city of Chicago is coordinated by the Field Museum of Natural History,US Forest Service, and US Fish & Wildlife Service, but also involves50 or more non-governmental organizations and more than 5,000 individuals.Persons of all ages work side by side with scientists from the Museum andthe agencies, learning about and contributing to the welfare of the environmentat the same time.

Similar projects should bestarted around the country in cities that have natural history museumsor botanic gardens to provide the scientists; offices of the Forest Service,Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, or National ParkService to provide initial funding; and concerned citizens to provide theleadership and organization. There are many Americans who stand ready toimprove the environment that they will leave to their children and grandchildren.The efforts of the Federal offices in Chicago should be commended and alsoemulated wherever possible. Scientists should be commended for interactingwith the public. And, grant programs to support such partnership activitieswould go far to encourage more scientists to participate.

Informal education in museums,science centers, zoos, aquaria, botanical gardens and like institutionshas long been recognized as one of the most effective means for helpingpeople of all ages understand and learn about science. This is becausethe informal context allows individuals to find something of personal valuethat they wish to learn about, and then provides them with an entry intothe information on that topic. The learning that takes place in informalsettings is extremely cost effective. Each year, 130 million people gainnew insights in natural settings in US national parks. The pricetag isless than $1.00 per visit to visitor center displays, walks and campfiretalks provided by the National Park Service. The National Museum of NaturalHistory is one of the most popular visitor sites on the National Mall inWashington , DC, but it (and all other natural history institutions inthe country) are underfunded in comparison to their needs and to theirpopularity.

The expenditures of the governmenton informal education are very modest, and should be increased to meetdemand. For instance, many people are turned away from National Park Serviceand other interpretive programs every year because there is insufficientspace to accomodate all of those who are interested. Museums require additionalfunding to maintain interactive exhibits, which often wear out before theirplanned expiration because the positive response of visitors to the exhibitsexceeds the capacity to maintain them. Nature centers and exhibits on publiclands are all in need of maintenance and expansion to serve the public'sdesire to know about nature. There are various mechanisms that the Federalgovernment can use to increase support of informal education, such as increasingbudget lines in agencies that have programs in these areas and providinggrants to state and private institutions to increase their efforts in theseareas.

Teacher-training opportunitiesin settings other than colleges of education can provide K-12 teacherswith skills that they can use in the formal classroom. Science and TechnologyCenters, Long-Term Ecological Research sites, the National Park Service,natural history museums, and botanical gardens, etc., all offer teachertraining opportunities in between school semesters that provide teacherswith skills and lesson plans that they can take into their classrooms.These are most effective when facilitators from the training institutionfollow up with the teachers, observing them when they present these newlessons for the first time and providing feedback. One such project conductedby a Science and Technology Center over the course of two years reached55 teachers, and through them 1,500 students, at a cost of approximately$150,000. The project was co-funded by a grant to the center and by theschools that employed the teachers, and its success was demonstrated whenthese teachers' students achieved higher exam scores over the period ofthe project. The apparent cost of $100 per student is actually less overthe long term, as the same teachers re-use the skills they have acquired.

Increasing investments inprofessional development for teachers of the type described above willquickly reach students with scientifically sound environmental education(see next section), and can be done in partnership between governmentallevels (Federal and local). The Eisenhower Professional Development FederalActivities program for math and science is already in place, and is developingcertification frameworks for 25 teaching fields. One of these should bespecifically directed at environmental education as an interdisciplinaryarea that integrates the social and behavioral sciences with mathematicsand the natural sciences. The Eisenhower Professional Development StateGrants funnel $250 million per year to the states to improve educationin science and mathematics. Environment, as a field of integrative science,should be a focus for the improvements made with these funds.

Funding for continuing teacherdevelopment in content and skills for environmental education is fullyjustifiable, and should be increased sufficiently to reach at least 10,000teachers per year (and through them 250,000 to 300,000 students in anygiven year). This can be done by restoring funds within the EisenhowerProfessional Development Federal Activities Program for grants in thisarea to 1995 levels, and by increasing National Science Foundation (NSF)teacher enhancement funding in the area of environmental education. Also,grant funds from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Informal ScienceEducation program of the NSF should be elevated to increase capacity andnumber of sites (museums, botanical gardens and the like) that provideprofessional development opportunities for teachers, in conjunction withthe Department of Education's Eisenhower Mathematics and Science RegionalConsortia. Investments in education are generally rewarding, and are alwaysneeded as new students enter school, new teachers enter the workforce,and as individuals discover new interests. The success of the sorts ofprograms we are recommending here can be measured only in part by increasingstudent test scores. It is more likely that informal educational experienceswill generate an increased understanding of environmental principles bythe public. For students, such lessons from informal education will bereinforced by school-based instruction. We believe that greater environmentalscience literacy will lead to more informed voting, and ultimately to betterstewardship of our nation's living capital.

Take steps to establishan "Environmental Science Curriculum Study" to produce texts, other learningtools, and teacher preparation materials for the Nation's schools and colleges.  

Environmental education mustbe based in science. Unfortunately, in the past some instruction and instructorshave not adhered to this principle. Instead, some single-interest groupshave widely advertised biased views, and some communities have become polarizedby conflict between the need for jobs and the needs of species. Environmentaleducation has devolved all too often into emotional environmentalism (oremotional anti-environmentalism).

Education to understand therelationship between society and the biosphere should draw from the sociological,geological, geographic, meteorological, chemical, physical, ecological,taxonomic, and economic sciences. Unfortunately, as has been noted in recentreports by groups from both the political right and the political left,much of the curricular and textual material available for use in America'sschools does not include such a balance. Many of America's teachers arenot themselves equipped with the knowledge and skills to work beyond thelimitations of the materials at hand, or to choose the best from amongthe materials that are available. And, making matters worse, many schooldistricts in this country completely exclude environmental education ofany sort from the curricula for their K-12 students.

There are several publicationsthat peripherally address the issue of curricular development for environmentaleducation. The North American Association for Environmental Education haspublished "Environmental Education Materials: Guidelines for Excellence"(1996). This document encourages teachers to look for fairness and accuracy,depth, emphasis on skills building, instructional soundness and logic inteaching materials. However, the document is written from an activist perspectiverather than the empirically driven perspective of science. The NationalScience Teachers Association, in conjunction with the Environmental ProtectionAgency, is developing a "Global Environmental Change Series" which beginswith a unit on "Biodiversity." This booklet brings biology together witheconomic realities and expresses these in a manner that can be understoodby and builds the skills of students. But it is one study unit for a workshopor high-school classroom, not a curriculum. The National Academy of Scienceshas produced (1995) a set of National Science Education Standards. Thesecover the breadth of the teaching of science, the training of teachers,and the assessment of science education, but do not address curricula specificto environmental education.

This Panel believes thatAmerica's schools should provide future voters with a logical basis andscientific skills for making choices among alternative ways to manage theNation's natural capital. Further, this education should be incorporatedthroughout a student's years in school, including college, and should betaught according to a balanced scientific curriculum. However, becauseit is beyond the scope of this Panel's charge to develop such a curriculum,we recommend that the Administration take steps to establish an "EnvironmentalSciences Curriculum Study," or ESCS.

The ESCS of our vision wouldbe patterned on and parallel to the highly successful BSCS (BiologicalSciences Curriculum Study), which has been the source of high-quality teachingmaterials and teacher-instruction materials for the biological sciencesin America's schools since 1958. The BSCS is constantly updating and upgradingthe texts it produces, which it publishes in several versions to allowteachers and school districts a choice among alternative methods and perspectives.Application of the curriculum- and materials-development methods used bythe BSCS would enable the ESCS to bring a much needed scientific rigorto environmental education, allow inclusion of the many scientific disciplinesthat must be integrated when considering environmental questions, and enablepresentation of an equitably balanced view of biodiversity, ecosystemsand society.

The availability of suchcurricula and materials would mitigate the resistance to environmentaleducation that occurs in a great many school districts. This resistanceprobably occurs for a number of reasons, but two of the main ones are lackof teachers prepared to teach scientific principles in this context, andthe tendency toward emotionalism and activism found in so many texts thatare not grounded in real data and clear thinking. In the absence of thetext and curriculum development that we recommend here, a very large percentageof America's future voters will be deprived of the tools they will needto fully participate in choices about how the Nation's natural capitalwill be managed. As has been said so succinctly by Presidential ScienceAdviser Dr. John Gibbons, "Since when is ignorance a promising route todeliverance?"

The preparation of this reportwas supported by a partnership among The George Gund Foundation, The JohnD. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, IBM, Lucent Technologies, theNational Science Foundation, the Environmenal Protection Agency, and theNational Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Cover Introduction   SectionI   SectionII   SectionIII   SectionIV   Section V

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