Menus Subscribe Search

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

July 30 • 4:00 PM

Still the World’s Top Military Spender

Although declining in real terms, the United States’ military budget remains substantial and a huge drain on our public resources.



July 30 • 2:04 PM

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.


July 30 • 2:00 PM

The (Mostly Awful) Things You Learn After Investigating Unpaid Internships for a Year

Though the intern economy remains opaque, dialogue about the role of interns in the labor force—and protections they deserve—is beginning to take shape.


July 30 • 12:00 PM

Why Coffee Shortages Won’t Change the Price of Your Frappuccino

You’re so loyal to Starbucks—and the company knows it—that your daily serving of caffeine is already marked up beyond the reach of any fluctuations in supply.



July 30 • 10:00 AM

Having Difficult Conversations With Your Children

Why it’s necessary, and how to do it.


July 30 • 8:00 AM

How to Make a Convincing Sci-Fi Movie on a Tight Budget

Coherence is a good movie, and its initial shoot cost about the same amount of money as a used Prius.


July 30 • 6:00 AM

Are You Really as Happy as You Say You Are?

Researchers find a universal positivity bias in the way we talk, tweet, and write.


July 30 • 4:00 AM

The Declining Wage Gap for Gay Men

New research finds gay men in America are rapidly catching up with straight married men in terms of wages.


July 30 • 2:00 AM

LeBron James Migration: Big Chef Seeking Small Pond

The King’s return to Cleveland is a symbol for the dramatic shift in domestic as well as international migration.


July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


July 29 • 12:40 PM

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it’s probably in your local river.


July 29 • 12:00 PM

Mining Your Genetic Data for Profit: The Dark Side of Biobanking

One woman’s personal story raises deep questions about the stark limits of current controls in a nascent industry at the very edge of the frontier of humans and technology.


July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


July 29 • 4:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays.


July 29 • 2:00 AM

Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.’s New Silver Line

Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees.


July 28 • 4:00 PM

Border Fences Make Unequal Neighbors and Enforce Social Inequality

What would it look like if you combined Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, demographically speaking? What about the United States and Guatemala?


July 28 • 2:00 PM

Are Patient Privacy Laws Being Misused to Protect Medical Centers?

A 1996 law known as HIPAA has been cited to scold a mom taking a picture of her son in a hospital, to keep information away from police investigating a possible rape at a nursing home, and to threaten VA whistleblowers.


July 28 • 12:00 PM

Does Internet Addiction Excuse the Death of an Infant?

In Love Child, documentary filmmaker Valerie Veatch explores how virtual worlds encourage us to erase the boundary between digital and real, no matter the consequences.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

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