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December 1997 - Issue No. #29 (p.10)
More than anything else, education should explore the connections between peoples, between people and other species, and between people and the planet. When we appreciate how dependent we are on having a healthy global environment, we will want to take steps to preserve biodiversity, reduce global inequalities and promote cross-cultural understanding with others.
Knowing about the environment doesn't necessarily lead to action. Students must have opportunities to "act" on their knowledge. It is only when we try to solve environmental problems that we can fully understand them. This can't be done solely by studying from textbooks. When students try to solve environmental problems, they discover that these issues are not black and white, and learn why these problems have not been solved already. This provides them with opportunities to develop the critical thinking skills needed to develop solutions.
It's estimated that the 20% of the world's population in the richer countries consume 80% of the world's resources. Does our planet have enough resources for everyone to have the same living standards as this 20%? Besides asking students to consider this question, we can challenge them to think of ways their school can save energy and can use less water, paper and other resources.
It's impossible to save the environment if you don't know it. Yet, most people live in cities where it's difficult to develop an emotional bond with nature. Environmental education can help people recognize that there is more nature in cities than we realize. Many North American schools are replacing the concrete in their school yards with nature study areas, full of native trees and plants. This is cheaper than taking students on trips to nature areas.
Traditionally, we have studied history in order to understand the present. But to solve environmental problems, we need to think about the future. As British educator David Hicks says, "the future is that part of history that we can change". One way is to ask ourselves what kind of future we want to leave our children. Native peoples in North America based their decisions on what would be best for those people born seven generations after them. Another method is to develop alternative views of the future. We can consider where our current path of development is taking us, then consider environmentally-friendly alternatives. This allows students to consider what future they prefer, and how we might get there from here.
In our communities, there are grandparents and other elders who can tell us what life was like before today's consumer society. It is important for young people to realize that our consumer society is a very recent development in human history and that many people enjoyed happy, satisfying lives before this. In North America, many educators invite aboriginal elders from native Indian or Inuit tribes to class to share their views about life.
In North America, young people encounter 2,000 advertisements each day - on TVand radio, on outdoor ads and on consumer products. These advertisements help form the self-image of boys and girls, and promote materialism as a goal in itself. We need to remember that our "mental" environment can get as polluted as the natural environment.
As role models, teachers have an enormous influence on their students. Research shows that if students know that teachers and other adults care about the environment, it lessens their anxiety about discussing and acting on environmental issues. We thus need to practice what we preach and "walk our talk".
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