Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Environmental Literacy: No Child Left Indoors

• March 23, 2010 • 4:50 PM

Without instituting a fifth-period forestry class, federal officials want school kids to get outside and observe what’s there.

Page 28 of the Obama administration’s blueprint for rewriting No Child Left Behind, released earlier this month, contains a vague but interesting paragraph about ensuring that American students have a “well-rounded education.” The plan would provide grants to states and school districts to bolster the teaching of arts, foreign languages, history, civics and something called “environmental education.”

Patrick Fitzgerald, the director of education advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation, could not think of another time when environmental literacy has been explicitly broached in reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And so the mention, albeit a brief one in an early-stage blueprint, is a big deal for advocates who worry children are spending dramatically less time around nature at precisely the moment when environmental crises demand a basic understanding of everything from the carbon cycle to the recycling process.

As the Department of Education’s broad-brush outline gets translated in the coming months into specific legislative language, many environmental groups hope it will include the No Child Left Inside Act. Critics wary of environmental demagoguery should take note: The act includes no mandates, only incentives.

Science education has become a politically hot topic, with several states and school boards recently adopting or considering requirements that teachers emphasize “uncertainty” around climate change and evolution. No Child Left Inside is not about dictating this curriculum dispute (and the bill, Fitzgerald points out, has both Republican and Democratic co-sponsors).

[class name=”dont_print_this”]

Idea Lobby

THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune's Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.

[/class]

“Environmental education is really about teaching kids how to think,” Fitzgerald said, “not what to think.”

He stresses the benefits of learning about nature — and directly in nature — not just for environmental literacy, but also for the success of students across other subject areas. A number of studies have suggested that students who receive environmental education have higher standardized test scores, better grades in reading, writing and math, and improved behavior and critical thinking skills.

One study, conducted in 2004 by the Pacific Education Institute and requested by the Washington state Legislature, analyzed more than 150 schools in the state, half with environmental education integrated across age groups and curriculum, and half with no such education. Students in the first group performed better on standardized tests, improved their GPAs and were more likely to stay in school longer.

No Child Left Inside would similarly encourage integrating environmental education across existing subjects. This would counteract an opposite trend since the 2001 passage of No Child Left Behind, which pushed many subjects out of the classroom as teachers focused on preparing for reading and math standardized tests.

“We’re not trying to get schools to create a fifth-period environmental education class,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s more around training teachers, getting them to understand how to use the environment and the outdoors in educating kids.”

The bill, like the Obama blueprint, would do this by providing grants to educate teachers and develop curriculum.

Another set of studies portrays a grim picture of what Americans — children and adults — currently know about the environment. Most of us, for starters, think we know more than we actually do. A 2005 report from the National Environmental Education Foundation concluded that only 12 percent of Americans could pass a basic quiz on energy topics.

Equally discouraging: 45 million Americans think fresh water comes from the ocean; 120 million think chlorofluorocarbons are still contained in spray cans (they haven’t been since 1978); and 130 million think America gets most of its energy from hydropower.

This leaves an awful lot of ground to cover before we ever even get to the part about anthropogenic climate change.

“We do know that kids are spending just seven minutes a day outdoors currently compared to over seven hours in front of a screen,” Fitzgerald said. “Generally, this contact with nature, this time outdoors, whether it’s after school or in school, is just not happening. The connection to nature in that sense is dwindling quite rapidly.”

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 20 • 10:28 AM

Flare-Ups

Are my emotions making me ill?


December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



Follow us


Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.