Chapter 5

Chapter 5
And Beyond: Improving and Enhancing
Sustainability Education

This chapter explores the following four areas that together form the foundation for education for sustainability.

  • Partnerships. Local, state, and federal governments; parents, teachers, and schools; environmental organizations; and business associations should form partnerships to coordinate educational programs focusing on sustainable development. Such coordination should reduce duplication of efforts, increase availability of resources, and enhance stakeholders ’ knowledge and ability to make the decisions that will help their communities thrive.

  • Technology. Sustainability requires that learners of all ages be prepared for today's ever-changing, increasingly technological society. Computer-based instruction and hands-on experience can foster achievement in technological disciplines and increase employment opportunities. The use of information technologies in and out of the classroom must be expanded and equitable access to technology must be ensured.

  • Global understanding. Educating for sustainability requires that learners have an understanding and appreciation of the international forces that affect their lives. Environmental problems such as air pollution and pollution of the oceans are global in scale, since ecosystems and ecological processes do not adhere to human-made boundaries. At the same time, economic and social forces are becoming increasingly globalized. For these reasons, achieving sustainability will require cooperation on an international scale. If today’s students are to be ready to make tomorrow’s decisions, they must understand the links not only among various subject areas but especially between local and global conditions.

  • Multicultural awareness. Individuals from diverse backgrounds must have equal access to education for sustainability. Equally as important, their voices must be heard and their input included in the educational process. As the demographics of America's schools and communities change, it is essential that students learn to function in a multicultural society by understanding issues from various perspectives, resolving conflict creatively, and synthesizing new ideas from diverse points of view.

The third policy recommendation of the Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force relates to these crosscutting policy, infrastructure, and social needs.


Strengthened Education for Sustainability
Institute policy changes at the federal, state, and local levels to encourage equitable education for sustainability; develop, use, and expand access to information technologies in all educational settings; and encourage understanding about how local issues fit into state, national, and international contexts.
Four actions are suggested for implementing this recommendation:

  • form federal, state, and local partnerships;
  • establish and expand access to information and communication networks;
  • foster an understanding of the global forces that affect the transition to a sustainable society, and
  • integrate multicultural perspectives.

The need for each of these actions is explored in the remainder of this chapter through highlighted Task Force activities and models of successful programs.


Forming Partnerships

Action 1: Federal, state, and local governments should form partnerships with private sector organizations, businesses, professional societies, educational institutions, and community groups to develop and implement coordinated strategies supporting education for sustainability.

Partnerships among government; businesses; individuals; communities; and religious, labor, environmental, and other stakeholder groups can serve to create common ground among diverse views, reduce conflict and suspicion, and encourage collaborative and consensus-based decisions. Partnerships do this by expanding available resources and creating win-win solutions. Also, partnerships ensure that programs of excellence are developed and continued in communities throughout the country. Through partnerships, schools and communities can create high-performance learning environments, both in the classroom and outside, by incorporating information technologies and developing community-based communications programs on sustainable development. This is the context within which a learning system for both young and old can be created that helps people learn how to think, be empowered, fulfill an interest in learning, and initiate a lifelong motivation for learning.

Leveraging limited federal resources to spur private sector initiatives directed at educational and national needs should be a high priority. Another priority should be to encourage agencies to make partnership opportunities related to sustainability and education for sustainability central to their missions. This would coordinate resources and avoid overlap and duplication. A collaborative effort should also be initiated to develop models that could be used by states to strengthen their education for sustainability programs in a comprehensive way — through legislation, statewide coordination, funding, curriculum guidelines, and professional development. Those states that have not yet formed advisory councils could be encouraged to do so; and the councils could participate with the working group in setting priorities and ensuring accurate communication, coordination, and accountability. Each state advisory council should link existing networks of public and private entities within the state to form a consortium that would integrate research, education, and extension functions.

Partnerships enable the public and private sectors to share ideas, build consensus, leverage scarce financial resources, engage a greater diversity of participants, and foster innovation. Education can be a link that draws people and organizations into partnerships, and education will benefit from the resulting exchange of experiences.

Successful sustainability partnerships are evident at the highest levels of government, as these examples show.

  • The Administration's Sustainability Agenda. Throughout his presidency, Bill Clinton has emphasized a "sustainability agenda," stressing the need for education reform, job creation, workforce training, economic competitiveness, and environmental protection. With these issues as national priorities, the Clinton Administration has created a variety of initiatives that embody the spirit of partnership and stress the importance of a sustainable future. The President's Council on Sustainable Development is one example of diverse stakeholders coming together to develop a consensus on how best to meet national goals involving environmental protection, economic progress, and social harmony.

  • The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). President Clinton created this cabinet-level Council, under the umbrella of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, to coordinate science, space, and technology policies across the federal government. The NSTC also establishes clear national goals for federal science and technology investments. Bridge to a Sustainable Future (April 1995) was the NSTC's response to the mandate for a long term national strategy and goals for the advancement of environmental technologies. The President's charge: "... spur the development of a new generation of technologies that prevent pollution, promote the development and use of technologies to monitor the environment, clean up existing pollution, and encourage the application of environmental technologies throughout the world." The strategy emphasizes the importance of integrating information about sustainability and emerging technologies into interdisciplinary education and training. The strategy stresses the need to forge partnerships to establish links between curricula and the experiential and other knowledge students need in order to effectively participate in the workforce of the 21st century.

  • Meeting Manufacturing Challenges: Environmental Systems Engineering Education. Coupling environmental considerations with systems engineering approaches offers a powerful mechanism for industry to develop sustainable manufacturing processes and to design environmentally preferable technologies and products. Within the manufacturing sector, there is a growing demand for a new generation of engineers who can apply environmental systems engineering, with a view toward total life-cycle, to their work. At the present time, there is a dearth of engineers who can meet this need. In response, the TI Group and one of its U.S. subsidiaries -- John Crane International, Inc. -- have been working closely with the U.S. EPA and GW University to champion the formation of a National Alliance for Environmental Systems Engineering Education. (The TI Group, recognized world leaders in specialized engineering and manufacturing, is a conglomerate of more than 125 companies with 350 plants and customer service facilities in 115 countries on five continents.) The Alliance's industry partners were linked in 1995 to an academic forum comprised of diverse community colleges and universities. At the core of the academic forum's current and planned activities is the development of new, interdisciplinary environmental systems engineering curricula for sustainability -- strengthened by partnerships for research, outreach, and innovative education and training activities. The Alliance also intends to advance essential pollution prevention knowledge, community-level sustainability action, and achievement in the development, commercialization, and transfer of advanced environmental technologies.

  • Other Federal Partnerships. At the federal level, a variety of partnership opportunities to promote and enhance education for sustainability options are currently being explored. A Working Group on Education About Sustainability under the National Science and Technology Council was recently created. The group's mission is to coordinate federal policies and programs supporting education for sustainability. It will also facilitate partnerships with state efforts and those of governmental organizations, businesses, professional societies, educational institutions, and community organizations.

The Environmental Education and
Training Partnership: Sustainability At Work
In 1995, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded a cooperative agreement to a consortium of institutions led by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) to manage the first year of a three-year national training program. This Environmental Education and Training Partnership (EETAP) is comprised of 18 partners from various universities and nonprofit organizations. The partnership includes existing successful teacher training programs such as Project Learning Tree, Project WILD, and Project WET. These programs have proven nationwide delivery mechanisms already in place. Through these and other programs, EETAP provided training for approximately 35,000 teacher and other environmental education professionals in 1996 alone. Program partners include the Academy for Educational Development, Ohio State University, Northern Illinois University, National Project Water Education for Teachers, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and Western Regional Environmental Education Council.
Educational partnerships are more frequently forged at the state rather than the federal level. This is because the federal government tends to play a supporting role in U.S. education -- funding programs to promote excellence and access -- while state and local governments take primary responsibility for education by establishing curricula frameworks and standards for educational achievement. Collaborative efforts, initiated by state and local government, and including educators, academics, educational institutions, and professional associations, are essential to the success of educational reform efforts.

  • Environmental Education in the School System. Many states are integrating environmental education programs and curricula into their school systems. By 1993, a total of 33 states had established formal guidelines for environmental education.1 Today, 19 states have enacted legislation that mandates environmental education.2 Five states -- Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Hawaii -- are working with the National Environmental Education Advancement Project to develop comprehensive plans to strengthen their environmental education programs. This project provides (1) matching grants from EPA to the five pilot states and (2) support services such as newsletters and workshops on successful efforts in other states. Organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation and the North American Association for Environmental Education have provided financial assistance for this effort. The project is an example of how educational institutions and nonprofit organizations are working together to assist state governments in developing statewide environmental education programs.

  • U.S. Global Change Research Program. This public-private partnership and education initiative is designed to develop national literacy and teaching capability in sustainability education through improved science information concerning global change issues. The initiative involves formal and nonformal educators and community leaders through statewide, systemic approaches ultimately contributing to the development of knowledgeable constituencies. Results of research in science and social science are communicated through integration in statewide core curricula; professional and association meetings at regional and national levels; and programs conducted in museums, science centers, and community groups. Organized in state teams, professional educators partner with non-governmental organizations, state government officials, businesses, and educators to design and implement state action plans. The five-member state teams gathered at a national global change education conference in Washington, D.C., in 1994, at seven regional conferences throughout the country in 1995, and at state-level planning and organizing meetings in 1996.

    The National Science Foundation offered planning grants to seven states in 1995 (Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, and Utah); and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration supported 19 states with implementation grants for statewide action plans (Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Wyoming).

  • Influence of Agenda 21. Spurred by the National Earth Summit, the governor of Kentucky invited representatives from all states to a conference, From Rio to the Capitols, in May 1993 to discuss how states can help the nation meet guidelines set by Agenda 21. Subsequently, many states, including Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin, began to develop statewide strategic plans for sustainable development.3

State efforts have spurred community projects, workshops, and councils on sustainability.

  • Local Partnerships. Kentucky and Minnesota are just a few of the states in the country that have initiated partnership programs among state agencies, community and environmental groups, businesses, and the public to develop state sustainability plans. Both states noted that while top-down support is crucial, so too is widespread involvement from interest groups, the public, and other stakeholders in the process.4

Partnership for Protection
"There are so many brilliant ideas, but they're like shooting stars because people do not figure out ways to make them sustainable," says Steve Hulbert, owner of an Olympia, Washington, car dealership and a member of the Council's Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force. "A sustainable idea must have support and resources at all levels, otherwise the idea fizzles and fades."

So when Steve Hulbert had a good environmental protection idea, he knew its success would depend on strong partnerships with stakeholders from all walks of life. Olympia's watersheds affect many concerns; over the years, however, their viability has been increasingly threatened by human encroachment and activities. Steve joined with community members to develop a program that involves youth, businesses, educators, resource professionals, nonprofit organizations, neighborhoods, and government in monitoring the condition of the area's watersheds. The program's goal is to take watersheds from assessment to problem identification to rehabilitation to sustainability.

As part of this program, students from the North Mason School District are working with officials of the State Department of Natural Resources to assess the effects of heavily used recreational trails in the Hood Canal/Tahuya State Forest Watershed. Other partners in the program include the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, the Washington State Legislature, the Olympia Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These partners supply the resources and financial support while community organizations, businesses, and parents provide the volunteers. Together, they have also established an information network that allows resources, knowledge, and expertise to be shared.

Steve Hulbert's idea has turned into a full-scale program that uses national, state, and local resources not only to educate students about forest ecosystems, the connection between watersheds and the forest, and the effect that humans can have on both, but to empower the whole community to work together to take protective actions.


Expanding Information Networks

Action 2: The public and private sectors should support the development of and equitable access to enhanced multimedia telecommunications technologies and improved clearinghouse capabilities that promote an understanding of sustainability.

It is clear that the ability to achieve sustainable development depends on scientific knowledge of the Earth's natural systems and the ways in which human activities affect these systems. Accurate information built on basic scientific research is needed, and existing research needs to be organized and accessible. Information will help people understand and predict changes in the environment, manage and restore natural systems, prioritize the potential risks associated with environmental problems, and take advantage of opportunities offered by technological developments. Information will also help the private sector develop new technologies, production processes, and goods and services; it will help too in developing community-based sustainable development strategies. Today, we have a dream for a different kind of superhighway that can save lives, create jobs, and give every American, young and old, the chance for the best education available to anyone, anywhere. I challenge you . . . to connect all of our classrooms, all of our libraries, . . . by the year 2000.

-- Vice President Al Gore

Information technologies are transforming society. Although it is argued whether this transformation is for better or worse, it is becoming clear that those who have access to and knowledge about computers are at an advantage compared to other students and workers.5 As President Clinton noted in a February 13, 1996, address, "educational technology has actually helped to raise educational performance . . . it's allowing students around the country to do things they could never have done before, to examine gray whales, to study Hawaii's volcanoes, to explore the Galapagos, all without leaving the classroom."

Technologies such as the Internet, World Wide Web (WWW), and interactive CD-ROMs can advance education for sustainability by linking educators, policy makers, students, and parents nationally and internationally. Incorporating these technologies in educational contexts and improving computer-based instruction and the infrastructure for hands-on computer experience is becoming increasingly important. However, the U.S. Department of Education notes that application of information technologies in the classroom varies among locales. One explanation, cited in a recent Office of Technology Assessment report, is a lack of telephone lines in classrooms; this effectively bars student participation in electronic communications networks.6 Another barrier is the speed at which technology is changing: Many schools simply cannot afford to keep upgrading their equipment every few years. Also, even if technology is available in a school, educators frequently are not properly trained in its use, and therefore do not know how to incorporate it into their teaching.

These caveats aside, the proliferation and use of information and communications technology are rapidly increasing:

  • By 1994, nearly 65 percent of all schools, and 77 percent of all high schools, had modems and access to telephone lines.7

  • Ten years ago, schools had one computer for every 125 children; that ratio is now one computer for every 12 children.8

  • The Internet today reaches approximately 40 million people in about 168 countries; use is rapidly increasing. China went from two Internet sites in 1994 to 593 in 1995; Argentina increased from one to 1,415; and Japan rose from 38,267 to 99,034.9

Technology is rapidly becoming an invaluable tool for supplying equitable access to information about new programs, resources, and materials related to education for sustainability. In its final report, the President's Council on Sustainable Development called for the development of the National Information Infrastructure (NII) by the private sector to increase access to public information and improve access for all. NII, or "Information Superhighway," will be a seamless web of communications networks, computers, databases, and consumer electronics putting vast amounts of information at users' fingertips. Its continued development will ensure that the best schools, teachers, and courses will be available to all students, regardless of geography, resources, or limitations.

NII's infrastructure must include excellent organization of information. Existing clearinghouses, such as EE Link, the Educational Resources Information Clearinghouse (ERIC), and others relating to sustainable development, can collaborate to offer central gateway points of access on the World Wide Web (WWW). The EPA's Environmental Education and Training Partnership (EETAP), led by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), is working to create a coordinated system for information networks. Educators at all levels need to access models of successful education for sustainability programs that can be emulated or adapted for use in their classrooms. A WWW home page, a starting point for receiving information about a particular organization or topic, sponsored by the National Science and Technology Council's Joint Working Group on Education could supply information about models of sustainability in action, as well as about the activities of federal agencies, grant programs, and government-supported projects in the private sector.

Finally, educational programs should be encouraged to incorporate data from environmental monitoring tools such as geographic information systems. Teachers and students should be aware of databases maintained by international, national, and state governments as well as by private organizations. Courses should familiarize students with the availability of different types of databases, how they are accessed, and how they can be used to monitor environmental change and guide decisions about resource use and protection of the environment.

Following are some examples of how new technologies and clearinghouse capabilities are being applied today by government and the private sector in furthering sustainable development education.

  • CD-ROMs and Satellite Images. The Island Institute in Rockland, Maine, supplies students in 150 classrooms with innovative environmental education software and satellite imagery of the students' school and town. One class, when studying satellite images of its town, discovered that a proposed site for a low-level nuclear waste dump from Maine's nuclear power plant was a wetlands habitat. After the students' results were confirmed by a hydrogeologist, the class presented its findings to the town planning board. The program material was made available under the direction of the Remote Sensing Facility at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences; sponsors include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Island Institute, and Apple Computer, Inc. It addresses classroom instruction in mathematics, physics, geology, ecology, oceanography, history, and geography.

  • Distance Learning. Bell Atlantic Foundation is working with teachers to engage students in collaborative learning projects based on sustainable development issues in a new multimedia learning project co-sponsored by EARTHWATCH. Using electronic networks and the World Wide Web, EARTHWATCH on-line is able to support these teachers and their students throughout the school year. Apple Computers, Inc. provided laptops, digital cameras, and Newton personal data assistants for the project.

  • Computer-based Learning for Sustainability: EPA's Multimedia Development Laboratory. Originally intended to address learning and training needs of the U.S. EPA's employees, the Multimedia Development Laboratory (MML) has since grown to provide computer-based learning products on diverse safety, health, environmental, and sustainability matters to over 2,600 organizations throughout the U.S. and abroad. Using state-of-the-art technologies, the MML produces and distributes learning, information, and performance support tools, including interactive CD-ROMs. These generic products enable individuals to have learning experiences and meet training objectives in a timely and cost-effective manner, without travel to off-site locations. EPA's return on its investment was about 50% during the first year of operation, and it is expected to return over 200% in the following six years; savings in excess of $2 million are currently estimated. The MML recently started work with the Urban Consortium's Environmental Task Force of Public Technology, Inc., to develop and deliver computer-based learning, information, and performance support products to local governments and communities to help them achieve their sustainability goals.

The growth of computer technology in the 20th century has been exponential. Everyday, more and more people gain access to information via the Internet. A survey conducted by Nielsen Media Research concluded that about 37 million people in the United States and Canada have Internet access: 24 million of those surveyed had "signed on" to the Internet in the last 90 days. As access to computers increases, more and more people will be able to use the Internet as an educational tool, enabling people to expand their global perspectives and understanding of different cultures, religions, regions, languages, and ideas. Networks that provide information or services related to sustainability are also expanding. For example:

  • Global Action and Information Network (GAIN). GAIN provides "information for action." GAIN-Online provides current legislative information on almost every environmental issue, as well as background data and analyses, action alerts, organizational resources, and contact information for congressional members, cabinet officials, and federal agencies. It also is developing a computer program, Vision Into Action (VIA), that helps individuals, businesses, and communities determine the scope of their ecological impact. Once producers and consumers alike understand the impact of their actions, VIA assists them with adopting new practices by providing education and information about stainable lifestyles and communities.

  • Government Information Locator Service. EPA has established a Government Information Locator Service for anyone who needs to locate, access, or acquire environmental information. The service lists more than 200 of the Agency's public information resources, describes the information in those resources, and provides assistance in obtaining the needed information.

  • EE-Link. EE-Link is an on-line source of information about environmental education. It provides access to teaching resources on the Internet, including articles, databases, grant information, and instructional materials. EE-Link is administered through a partnership among EPA, the North American Association for Environmental Education, and the National Consortium for Environmental Education and Training.

  • GREENWIRE. GREENWIRE, an on-line environmental news service, provides a daily briefing on environmental news. Editorial commentary comes from over 100 U.S. and international media sources. The GREENWIRE database provides 24-hour-a-day access to over 20,000 stories published in GREENWIRE since 1991.

  • Global Network of Environment and Technology (GNET). GNET provides access to information on environmental products and services, marketing opportunities, contracts, U.S. government programs, policy and law, current industry news, and business assistance resources on the environment, technology, and commerce. It was designed to help the federal government track roundtables, agency initiatives, and other work products or dialogues initiated by the White House on environment, energy, and sustainability issues.
    [ or]

  • National Library for the Environment. The Committee for the National Institute for the Environment has developed a National Library for the Environment. The library provides access to over 300 reports on various environmental issues, a user-friendly on-line encyclopedia of the environment, and detailed information at all technical levels on specific environmental subjects. Reports are reviewed, prepared, and checked for accuracy by the Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress.

  • Educational Resources Information Center. ERIC is a national information system designed to provide users with ready access to an extensive body of literature on education and related issues. Established in 1966, ERIC is supported by the U.S. Department of Education. A number of subject-specific clearinghouses and services provide research summaries, bibliographies, reference and referral services, computer searches, and document reproduction.

  • National Environmental Information Resources Center (NEIRC). The NEIRC was designed to provide professionals, students, and the general public with "one-stop access" to diverse environmental, educational, and sustainability-related information maintained on the World Wide Web of the Internet. Established in 1995 as a public service by The George Washington University (GW) and the U.S. EPA, it provides direct linkages to more than 1,000 sites, globally. A number of the linked sites feature computer-based learning, information, and performance support modules; on-line tools for educators and researchers, and extensive search capabilities. NEIRC users can engage in discussions encompassing many different environmental and sustainability subjects through dedicated Usenet news groups. The NEIRC also serves as a repository of information developed by, and for, higher education and research institutions through GW's "Green University Initiative."

Computer technology is likely to change the course of our future. With the expansion of the Internet, societies all over the globe will one day be able to access the information they need to create sustainable living conditions. Educating via computer opens doors to information and teaches valuable skills.

Bridges Not Walls: Bringing the Internet to Public Housing
The National Urban Internet is an environmental justice initiative, sponsored by Naval District Washington, that has been designed to provide access and training on the Information Superhighway to low-income and minority communities in Southeast Washington, D.C. The program provides hardware, software, computer literacy training, Internet access and training, and occupational training. It also provides information on such subjects as health education, business development, and risk assessment in the interests of contributing to an enhanced quality of life. Final development and implementation of the initiative will be conducted through a public-private partnership consisting of leaders from government, industry, and community groups.

When fully implemented, the National Urban Internet will go far beyond providing computer equipment and connecting public housing residents to the Internet. "It is clear that access is only a partial solution," notes John Rosenthall, Director of National Urban Internet. "The partnership will ensure appropriate training and information such as grant-writing training and technical assistance for participants that will help with life skills applications." The ultimate purpose of the project is to help community residents gain environmental justice, community empowerment, and self-sufficiency through computer usage.

GLOBE: Hands-On Learning
Students, parents, teachers, and school administrators met on the grounds of Jamestown Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia, awaiting the arrival of Vice President Al Gore, who was visiting the school to launch another GLOBE (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment) site. GLOBE, started by the Vice President in 1994 and supported by several federal agency partners -- the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) -- is designed to link teachers, students, and scientists around the world in a study of the environment. Says Jamestown principal Nicki Smith, "GLOBE is going to revolutionize education."

So how does GLOBE work? Basically, it is a hands-on scientific experiment. Teachers are trained to help students test soil, gauge water temperature, study plant species and clouds, and measure the height and diameter of trees. These data are then reported on the Internet via the World Wide Web for use by students, scientists, and NASA. "It's exciting, electrifying," says Joseph Squeo, a fifth grade teacher at Royle Elementary School in Darien, Connecticut, who is one of 12 teachers in that state being trained to run GLOBE programs at their own schools. "This program is unique because it makes students and teachers a part of a scientific experiment. We have ownership. We can get involved and be a part of the scientific study of the Earth. We're going to be doers and participants, and that is what is going to appeal to kids today."

To date, more than 2,500 schools in the United States and 35 partner countries have signed up as GLOBE sites. Scientists are already benefiting from the information collected by the students. "We don't have the time or the capability or the research funding to do the work these students are doing," William Lawrence, a research scientist at the University of Maryland, remarks. Says Neal Pettingill, an 11-year-old Jamestown student involved with the program, "You're not just doing it to learn stuff, but you're actually helping scientists figure out what they need to do to help the Earth."


Fostering Global Understanding

Action 3: Educators in both formal and nonformal learning programs should help students understand the international factors that affect the nation’s transition to a sustainable society.

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without global cooperation that stresses the need for common solutions to long-term challenges and a greater understanding of the inextricable link among all nations. Overcoming obstacles to sustainability requires a global understanding of the effects that one country's actions and policies have on the health and well-being of another country. This "think globally, act locally" credo is best set forth through strong educational programs that emphasize individual, community, business, and national responsibilities to the global community. The concept of sustainable development is still vague in the minds of many people . . . around the world. If this issue is going to succeed in the international community, it is going to be through very strong promotion by the United States government.

-- William Mansfield
(former) Deputy Director,
U.N. Environment Programme

Educating for sustainability requires that learners have an understanding and appreciation of the international forces that affect their lives. Environmental problems such as air pollution and pollution of the oceans are global in scale since ecosystems and ecological processes do not adhere to human-made boundaries. At the same time, economic and social forces are becoming increasingly globalized. For these reasons, achieving sustainability will require cooperation on an international scale. If today's students are to be ready to make tomorrow's decisions, they must be able to understand the links not only among various subject areas but especially between local and global conditions.

Achieving sustainability on a global scale will take decades or perhaps centuries. Solutions to global problems will require long-term dialogue and education at regional and international levels. Meaningful discussions will bear fruit, however, only if they lead to appropriate actions and behavioral changes.

What is urgently needed is an international strategic alliance of citizens, including United Nations agencies, NGOs [non-governmental organizations], the private sector, and governments to support the development and implementation of national plans for communication and education for a sustainable future.

-- Jean Perras,
Executive Director
Learning for a Sustainable Future and
North American Regional Chair,
IUCN - Commission on Education and Communication

There have already been a variety of dialogues on these issues, including activities begun in the 1970s in Stockholm and continued in Tbilisi, Belgrade, and the work of the Bruntland Commission. In particular, Agenda 21, adopted at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, stressed international cooperation and partnerships to heighten understanding through education as the launching pad for future sustainability initiatives. Many countries have embraced the themes of Agenda 21 by exploring how sustainability could be integrated into organizations, businesses, and government at the national and community levels. Mandates such as Agenda 21 must trickle down and be incorporated into formal and nonformal educational institutions through curricular and operational changes and into country and regional plans that recognize the importance of sustainability.

Students and youth groups must participate in the emerging global dialogue on sustainability. Information is becoming more accessible as communication methods become faster and more diverse. Additionally, new alliances centered around economic, political, and related issues are continually emerging and have a great influence on global progress toward sustainability. These factors are, in essence, "shrinking" the planet, making information and other resources more readily available. Students must know about these options and opportunities as they embark on a journey of discovery and understanding of global systems and what it means to be a responsible citizen of the global community.

Learning from Thy Neighbor
Canada's Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF) is a recognized leader in developing education for sustainability strategies. Its five-part approach to sustainable development education comprises the following:

  • Integrate the principles of sustainability into educational policies at the provincial and territorial levels, with each province choosing the methods most appropriate to implement their own programs.
  • Ensure that teachers receive in-service professional development in sustainability education.
  • Offer support for pre-service education.
  • Identify successful existing initiatives and disseminate models of innovation in curriculum planning.
  • Support program strategies in curriculum design and teacher education.

LSF was formed after a 1987 meeting between Canada's environmental ministers and the Brundtland Commission; this meeting spurred a series of roundtables at the federal and provincial levels. Some of these were hosted by the Subcommittee on Communication and Education of the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy. The subcommittee's focus was to make sustainability education a top priority in Canada. LSF was given its mandate by the subcommittee to facilitate discussion and planning for introducing the principles of sustainable development into the Canadian school system. LSF's board of directors is made up of representatives from the education, government, business, and nonprofit sectors: This helps ensure that the planning process includes the views of as many stakeholders as possible.

LSF has begun establishing networks of educators who will be trained to serve as facilitators for teacher workshops. Internationally, it is working to forge partnerships with a variety of organizations in the United States and abroad. "Linking efforts of organizations such as the PCSD and Learning for a Sustainable Future will strengthen the support for education for sustainability programs not only in Canada and the United States, but in other nations as well," notes Jean Perras, LSF's Executive Director. "This is an issue that transcends borders and should be addressed collaboratively by all nations. Only by working together can we forge a new pedagogy for education that recognizes the increasingly interdependent world in which we live."


Integrating Multicultural Perspectives

Action 4: Formal and nonformal educators should ensure that education for sustainability invites and involves diverse viewpoints, and that everyone -- regardless of background and origin -- has opportunities to participate in all aspects of the learning process. This will ensure that education for sustainability is enriched by and relevant to all points of view.

The demographic composition of classrooms and communities in the United States is more diverse than it has been at any other time in our nation's history. This demographic transformation challenges educators, both in formal and nonformal settings, to develop relevant teaching materials and curricula reflective of the environmental realities in all types of communities. Education is the most powerful tool we have to combat environmental racism.

Beverly Wright, Director
Southern Center
for Environmental Justice

As the demographic composition of classrooms and communities becomes more diverse, there is an increased need for relevant and inclusive materials, and for teacher training and sensitivity that reflects new approaches for working with culturally, economically, and linguistically diverse children. Whether in classrooms, museums, or the media, new inclusive visions are needed to commit an active, multicultural citizenry to a sustainable future.

The goal of integrating multicultural perspectives in the public dialogue on sustainable development has several corollary issues, notably including the following.

  • Bridging the demographic gap between an increasingly diverse student body and a more traditionally aligned teaching staff. The teacher population in the nation's classrooms is overwhelmingly female, white, and middle class.5 The students, however, are more racially diverse and come from nontraditional family structures; for many, English is not their primary language. Teachers need training to address this demographic gap. This training should focus on increasing the cross-cultural competencies of educators to integrate education for sustainability into culturally diverse settings.

  • Ensuring that the relevance of the sustainability message is made clear to all component groups of this nation's multicultural population. A 1994 Roper survey commissioned by the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation focused on disadvantaged youth (defined as those from ZIP Codes where 30 percent or more of the population is at or below the poverty level). The responses indicated a serious gap in environmental education -- or, more likely, in what is being taught about the environment. Children most likely to be exposed to environmental risks ranked environmental problems as eighth on a list of 10 societal issues they would like to make better. Youth in general rated the environment as second.11

    One reason for this discrepancy may be that environmental education as well as sustainable development education is either not taught in the target populations' schools or does not incorporate information about environmental issues that relate to students' everyday concerns. For example, urban youth may not see the importance of saving whales, something they have never seen before, as compared with the more pressing and immediate problems of violence and drugs in their own neighborhood. Urban youth may benefit more from learning about environmental justice issues, waste reduction and management, and how environmental hazards affect human health, as well as about preservation of natural resources. Regardless of the specific environmental issues taught, however, the overall programs need to be tailored to meet the needs of the specific constituencies they serve. Programs and curricula should be dynamic and able to adjust to changing community, national, and global circumstances. Linking environmental issues with everyday survival issues can expose disadvantaged students to knowledge that can help them take action and make changes and decisions that benefit themselves, their families, and their communities.

  • Integrating the concept of environmental justice into sustainability education. Multicultural environmental education focuses on students in industrialized areas who are often disproportionately exposed to toxicants. Historically, the siting of industrial plants, waste incinerators, landfills, and sewage treatment plants in or near poor and minority communities has resulted in discriminatory exposure to pollution and hazardous wastes. In recent years, an explosion of interest in environmental issues among people of color has coalesced in the environmental justice movement, which links environmental issues with social justice movements, such as civil rights. The focus is on toxic waste dumps, poor air and water quality, and pesticides, and their impact on human health. The movement seeks environmental equity for all people, regardless of race, social class, ethnicity, gender, age, or disability. In addition to pointing out discriminatory siting practices, the movement has condemned the uneven enforcement of environmental laws and remediation efforts.

Some or all of the preceding ideas are being incorporated. Successful examples of ongoing initiatives to integrate multicultural perspectives into sustainability education follow.

  • The Southern Center for Environmental Justice. Since it opened in 1992, the Southern Center for Environmental Justice has been inundated with requests for community assistance in responding to accidents, registering formal complaints, accessing information, and understanding technical documents related to the environment. The center's dual mission is to conduct research and policy studies and create partnerships among universities, grassroots organizations, and individuals in a community to empower coordinated actions in fighting for environmental justice on the local level. In keeping with this mission, the center is facilitating research on three main areas including toxicology hazards and the study of economic development as it relates to environmental justice. The center also runs three training programs: Information Is Power, a course teaching communities ways in which to access environmental information; Computer Ready, a computer skills training course; and Leadership, which teaches community members how to network and form coalitions. The center was started by a consortium of universities including Southern University of New Orleans, University of New Orleans, Dillard University, Xavier University, Clark Atlanta University, and Hampton University; it serves Louisiana, east Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama.

  • Cuyahoga Community College. In 1992, Cuyahoga Community College was awarded a grant by EPA to offer an associate of science degree for environmental science technicians; develop community outreach and recruitment, especially for people of color; increase their involvement in environmental issues and careers; develop a long-range environmental education plan; and establish a tech-prep program for high school students. The college is establishing an advisory committee to provide expertise and guidance in developing an Environmental Science Technology program with appropriate course work to enable matriculation agreements with four-year institutions. Additionally, in July 1994, Cuyahoga Community College established a Center for Environmental Education and Training.

  • Davidson School -- Sustainability for the Disabled. An EPA grant is enabling the Davidson School in Elwyn, Pennsylvania, to provide training in environmental education to teachers and university students majoring in special education. The Curriculum for Environmental Education of the Disabled will be distributed nationwide through a network of participating organizations and agencies. By targeting disabled secondary school students, this program will reach a traditionally underserved audience.

  • Chicago Academy of Sciences. The Chicago Academy of Sciences' Project Ecological-Citizenship is designed for urban multicultural elementary students; it also involves parents and the community. The project's core element is a multidisciplinary ecology program incorporating hands-on explorations of environmental issues affecting inner-city communities. The academy's model program has been used to introduce environmental education in inner-city schools throughout the nation.

  • Project SEED. Project SEED (Seniors Environmental Education Development) in Fremont, Ohio, is an excellent example of how a community-based organization can communicate with an audience not typically reached through other methods of environmental education. The project, which is run by four Ohio counties, educates disadvantaged senior citizens about the health hazards of indoor air pollution and about conservation opportunities within their homes, such as weatherization and water conservation.

  • Three Circles Center. Three Circles Center for Multicultural Environmental Education is a nonprofit organization that aims to introduce, encourage, and cultivate multicultural perspectives and values in environmental and outdoor education, recreation, and interpretation. The center helps create access to environmental education for children of color across the country through teaching, program design, evaluation, curriculum development, and outdoor field study opportunities. It also helps organizations and educators by publishing a journal, offering presentations and workshops, and consulting on a variety of areas including programs and curriculum design, development, and evaluation; community relations; materials review; and board and staff development and facilitation. Two current Three Circles Center efforts are described below.

    • Parker Elementary School in East Oakland, California, has taken a bold step: It will become a magnet school for environmental science. This designation allows the school to build on six years of collaboration with the Inside Out Academy, an environmental education program founded by the executive director of Three Circles Center and a group of progressive teachers at Parker. The Inside Out Academy began by stressing the importance of providing environmental education to children of color in an urban environment; it then saw the potential in linking the program to overall school reform. To help facilitate this, Parker and the Inside Out Academy participated in a collaborative effort to renovate the curricula and develop a positive leadership climate. Many ideas about multicultural environmental education were developed at Parker, where the student body is over 90 percent African American, with an increasing number of Latino students and students of Southeast Asian descent. Three Circles Center is in the process of recording the school's experiences, focusing on how environmental education was taught in such an ethnically diverse context.

    • Three Circles Center has initiated the Multicultural Technical Assistance Project (MTAP) to support the incorporation of multicultural issues and perspectives into selected San Francisco Bay Area environmental education programs. The 10 programs involved in MTAP were selected based on their commitment to change and their ability to identify barriers in meeting organizational goals. MTAP provides peer support and acknowledgment, identification of significant resources, and supportive and visionary leadership to these programs. Specifically, it held three eight-hour interactive, participatory workshops on building and developing a diverse staff; developing successful relationships with diverse communities; and multicultural environmental education. Numerous "next steps" came out of the workshops, and in the two months following them, participants regrouped to share their challenges and successes in facilitating multicultural change in their programs.

Diversity is as valuable to sustainability in cultures as it is in nature. The whole social "mix" must be nourished and the interconnectedness treasured.

-- Geri Spring, Coordinator
Chattanooga/Hamilton County
Neighborhood Network

Educators knowledgeable about sustainability can help students make these connections in and out of the classroom. Teachers' familiarity with these issues should begin during pre-service training and continue throughout their tenure. Educator training should stress conflict resolution, intercultural communication, and environmental justice issues while emphasizing an understanding of community-based approaches to environmental education that builds sensitivity toward diverse cultural values. Elisa Adler, an educator involved with a bilingual/bicultural river restoration program, notes that "Until people feel profoundly connected to the Earth, they won't really care what happens to it. [People need] . . . to consider their relationship to the natural environment and to discover themselves as an interdependent and interacting member of a community of diverse species."12
The Lesson of the Menominee Indian Tribe
The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin has created culturally appropriate applications of sustainability that can inform mainstream conceptions. The Menominee, along with other tribes throughout the United States, promote the lessons and concepts of sustainability at an early age and weave them into the levels of education throughout life. At the College of the Menominee, a two-year institution of higher education in Keshena, Wisconsin, concepts of sustainability are integrated into the curricula and hands-on, experiential learning is practiced. Students develop a strong cultural and spiritual bond to the land.

This feeling for the land is bound in an awareness that the tribe has only 240,000 acres which must be passed on to future generations. Therefore, the reservation's natural resources are managed sustainably so that trees and clean water are able to replenish themselves for future use. As Chief Oshkosh, one of the early tribal leaders, once said, "Start with the rising sun, and work toward the setting sun, but take only the mature trees, the sick trees, and the trees that have fallen. When you reach the end of the reservation, turn and cut from the setting sun to the rising sun, and the trees will last forever." Sustainable forest management has been practiced by the Menominee since the creation of the reservation over 140 years ago. Today, the Menominee Tribal Enterprises maintains the tradition of sustainable forestry in the Menominee Forest.

The Menominee recognize that education is one of the keys to preserving and enhancing their sustainable activities. The College of the Menominee Nation has a variety of future activities in the works. In the fall of 1996, the college will launch a new degree program in sustainable development, and the Menominee Sustainable Development Institute is developing a curriculum for high schools with sustainable communities as the theme.

Mainstream multicultural programs could benefit from the example of the Menominee approach -- this could broaden environmental literacy while expanding knowledge about how to balance limited natural resources with everyday consumer demands.


Chapter 6
Table of Contents

Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force Report

Task Force Members and Liasons

A Letter from the Task Force


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Appendix A: Endnotes

Appendix B: Acknowledgments

Appendix C: Resource Guide

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