What is Environmental Education?

Last week I published a video telling you
about my experiences as an environmental educator. If you haven’t seen that video, you can
click up here. In it, I talked a lot about what environmental
ed means to me. But what IS environmental education? When I told you what environmental education
means to me, I used lots of stories to explain my point of view. But it’s difficult to pack all of those
feelings and experiences into a single definition. So what IS environmental education, officially? There are lots of different definitions, depending
on who you talk to. The North American Association for Environmental
Education says that environmental ed is “a process that helps individuals, communities,
and organizations learn more about the environment, and develop skills and understanding about
how to address global challenges.” That’s pretty basic, right? The NAAEE definition covers learning about
the environment, and also goes a little farther by talking about “addressing challenges.” The United States Environmental Protection
Agency takes the definition a step further, calling environmental ed “a process that
allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem solving, and take
action to improve the environment. As a result, individuals develop a deeper
understanding of environmental issues and have the skills to make informed and responsible
decisions.” This time, we get a sense that
environmental ed is about more than just facts – it’s about activism! I like this definition because, to me, environmental
education isn’t complete until a learner feels a connection, a sense of responsibility
to nature and a desire to act in the environment’s best interests. The Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education
says it’s “a life-long learning process that increases awareness about the environment
and its systems while developing critical-thinking skills that enable responsible decision-making.” The phrase “life-long learning process”
is also very important to me. You’re never too old to be learning about
your environment! Many environmental educators focus on
children because “kids are the future.” But the environment needs our help right NOW, so
it’s important to include adults in our educational process! If we take all of my favorite parts from these
definitions and squash them together, we might get a definition that we can sink our teeth into: Environmental education is a life-long learning
process that helps individuals, communities, and organizations learn more about the environment,
explore environmental issues to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between
humans and the environment, and develop critical-thinking skills that enable responsible decision-making
and environmental activism. Yeah, that feels pretty good to me. What do you think? Is there anything else you would add to my
definition? So, I obviously think that environmental education
is important. But why is that? Lady Bird Johnson, when she was First Lady
of the United States, wrote: “The environment, after all, is where we all meet, where we
all have a mutual interest. It is one thing that all of us share. It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but
a focusing lens on what we can become.” That sense of connection is exactly what environmental
education seeks to foster in people. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you
live in the environment, and so do I. All humans, regardless of how far they
live from perceived nature, still rely on it. If the environment is destroyed, we won’t
survive long without it. But can environmental education achieve the
goals we’ve set for it? When done correctly, it certainly can! A study in London followed a group of almost
200 elementary school students on a series of environmental education field trips. Attending a live animal show allowed the children
to make comparisons between themselves and the animals, opening up their minds to
compassion for animals and other parts of nature. Exploring at a nearby nature center allowed
the kids to develop their questioning skills, as well as an awareness for the local environment. A visit to a natural history museum exercised
the kids’ observational skills and got them thinking about environmental careers. During all three outings, the children were
exposed to previously unknown things, fostering their discovery and engagement with the natural
world. As the researchers put it: “One key idea
in biology conservation education is that the living world is of personal worth to the
learner.” And I would completely agree! If you know about something, you can seek
to understand it. If you understand something, you can seek to care
about it. And if you care about something, you can seek to
protect it. Emotional connections are how we foster the
next generation of environmental activists and stewards. Do you think environmental education is important? In the comments, let me know about any awesome
environmental ed experiences you’ve had as a learner or as a teacher! As always, I’ll be happy to answer any questions. Links and citations to all of the research sources
I used will be down in the description. If you liked this video, don’t forget to
like it. If you didn’t like it, please share it with
someone who would. And if you’d like to support The Roving
Naturalist, please remember to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. I’ll see you next time!

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