opinion   |   oped

EDITORIAL: Environmental literacy needs to be an educational standard

Environmental education is important now more than ever, and it is never too early for students to start learning about climate, ecosystems and the natural world around them.

Unfortunately, environmental science classes are not usually available until high school, and even then, they are not always required. In elementary and middle school, environmental science is only covered in general science classes.

In order to foster an environmentally conscious generation of youth, environmental literacy needs to be made a standard of education, and not just in the science classroom.

Some schools in Indiana have successfully made environmental literacy a standard in their classrooms. Oaklandon Elementary in Lawrence, Indiana is a magnet school for environmental science, with the environment at the core of its curriculum. 

The school uses a hands-on approach. Its website says, “Oaklandon has an outdoor learning laboratory, pond ecosystem, vegetable and flower gardens, and opportunities to care for live chickens and ducks. Students have the opportunity to work in these areas year-around so they can see first-hand how these environments change and living creatures adapt.”

This sets a great example for other Indiana schools. Even those that do not have magnet focuses can incorporate environmental studies into their classrooms. This can be as simple as reading books about animals and their habitats in English classes or doing equations about climate change in math classes. It makes students aware of their changing environment from an early age.

On an even more serious note, this education is not only important, but necessary. According to the United Nations report released in October, climate change is projected to bring about major environmental and social crises in the next 20 years. Today’s students are the generation that will face this crisis most directly, so making sure they are educated on the matter is a good first step.

Climate change is not a core idea in Indiana’s science education, even though 19 states have already adopted it along the lines of Next Generation Science Standards. This alone is concerning, but it is not the only thing keeping environmental education out of the classrooms.

In 2017, Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, co-sponsored a resolution that encouraged support for teachers who use “diverse curriculums” in the classroom. This resolution specifically cited educators that teach alternatives to evolution, but it paves the way for them to teach alternate causes for climate change or avoid it entirely.

About the resolution, Raatz said to the Northwest Indiana Times, “It's not endorsing, necessarily, teaching creationism, or that global warming isn't true. But it is recommending that teachers wouldn't be crucified if they answered a student and conversation ensued in the classroom.”

There is no room for alternatives in the classroom. Failing to teach students about climate change, or implying that it is a natural phenomenon and not a human-made problem is not only inaccurate, but a moral failing.

It is our responsibility to make sure children are educated about the changing world around them. Making environmental literacy an educational standard is the first step in making a difference and creating an environmentally conscious generation.

A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Sen. Jeff Raatz as a representative instead of a senator. The IDS regrets this error.

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