Environmental Literacy in America

The National Environmental Education and Training Foundation



The pursuit of environmental literacy in America is widespread and popular but it needs to be ratcheted up a few more notches to become finally effective. The good news is that it surely will, and the foregoing chapters even lead us to a few final thoughts on where to go from here.
To begin with, the entire environmental education field needs to better understand how wonderful EE is when it is working well. We hope the reader has become sensitive to the idea that true environmental literacy arises from a deft weaving of an intricate education fabric. Knowledge must be deep, skills must be developed, and experiences made real for EE to work at its best. But the raw material and the necessary tools are all available for those who need them. Young people (and grown-ups too) basically love nature. They love being outside, they love learning about mysteries, and they love interacting with a world they can see, touch, hear, and smell. So despite our continuing academic cautions about the need for more data, for variable-controlled studies, for improved pedagogies, or for more extensive delivery systems, we are basically in the business of offering, and teaching about, wonder.
Real environmental education is also much more practical than most people may think. Somehow, our modern society likes to characterize things that are interesting or fun as "frivolous." It then holds them to that label regardless of the reality. The foregoing chapters paint a compelling picture of practicality. Consider how many hands-on learning experiences EE offers which ultimately translate into job skills, career skills, and people skills. Also consider how environmental education blends hard sciences with real social issues and teaches practical ethics. From an educational viewpoint, EE has consistently engaged the hardest-to-reach students. There are countless stories of how it has saved students, teachers, schools and even whole systems from intractable problems, decline, and burn out.
It also important to recognize how resilient environmental education can be in the face of powerful forces favoring consumerism, waste, and over-indulgence. Still young people continue to show they care about the environment, about clean air and water, outdoor spaces, protected creatures, and healthy people. Modern forces of society often seem toconspire against nature through everything from product advertising to the seductions of indoor computer and video games. The discouraging part is that the average seven-year-old can identify up to 200 corporate logos but cannot name the type of tree in front of his or her home. That same child may watch up to five hours of television each day and spend fewer than 10 minutes playing outside. The encouraging part is that the love of nature resides within that child, ready to come out if we can give it a chance.
Environmental education, done right, is about preserving the opportunity to let children have what most adult American adults enjoyed when they were young--relaxed and happy times in the outdoors, exploring and interpreting. However remiss we shall be in leaving behind an environmental mess for future generations, at a minimum we must conscientiously supply our children with the education and tools they will need to clean up the mistakes, and to rebalancethe overarching relationship between society and the natural world in the years ahead.

Pedagogical Area
  • place-based education, environment as integrating context (EIC)
  • environmental education
  • outdoor education, experiential education
Delivery Area
  • school based
  • out of school time/after school
  • on site day programs (nature center, farm, etc.)
Outcome Area
  • self efficacy
  • environmental knowledge, attitude and awareness
  • stewardship behavior
  • environmental change
  • teacher practice
  • school change
Participant Area
  • student
  • educator
  • program
  • school
Age Area
  • elementary (6-11 years old)
  • middle school (12-14 years old)
  • high school (14-18 years old)
  • adult