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

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

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.