We all know that the environment is in danger and that we need to do something to solve its problems. Legislative action will only work if people feel strongly enough about the environment to vote for lawmakers who will be sensitive to environmental issues. The challenge, then, is to get people to care enough about the environment to vote this way.
Effective environmental education is our greatest hope. If done properly, it will not only make students aware of the danger the environment is in but will also allow them to feel this danger firsthand. Once students feel this danger, they will be much more active in solving environmental problems.
Unfortunately, environmental education is often done ineffectively. For example, most people still think that the environment should primarily be studied using the tools of science. This creates two big problems. First, there are many students who dread science in all of its forms – students who would rather decline Sanskrit nouns than take a science course. Second, science can downplay the deep spiritual and elemental connection between humans and the environment. It is this connection that students need to become aware of so that they begin to understand the importance of solving our environmental problems.
It should be the responsibility of this country’s educational institutions to help students develop awareness of their connection to the environment. While more environmental science courses might help, the type of courses that would do the most good would be non-science courses – courses that look at the environment from philosophical, religious and political perspectives.
After all, in the struggle to repair the damage we’ve done, not all of us can be scientists. Some of us must be activists and some of us must simply be volunteers and concerned voters.
There are a few courses like this being offered at Temple this semester. One is earth ethics, taught by Monte Hull. This course tries to make students aware that the environment is a living extension of themselves – essential to all parts of their lives. There is also backpacking and camping, taught by Jeffery Gehris, which, by offering a direct experience of the backcountry, allows students to develop a feeling of personal connection to nature.
What Temple’s administration should do is require that all students, regardless of major, take an environment-related course before graduation. Since Temple is in the process of switching from Core Curriculum, the program that currently controls the basic requirements that all students must take before graduating, to General Education, the updated version of this program, now would be a perfect time to create such a requirement. It could be called something like “individual and the environment.”
The courses that would fulfill this requirement should be both science-based and non-science-based, and all of them should engender in students sympathy for the environment while at the same time showing them how to play a role in solving our environmental problems.
But according to Terry Halbert, the director of the General Education Program, it’s unlikely that such a requirement will be a part of General Education. There will most likely be two environmental studies courses that students can take in order to fulfill the science portion of the General Education requirements, but that will be it. While this is a good start, it might not be enough to create the type of dramatic shift in awareness that we need right now.
Eventually, all colleges in this country will have an environmental studies requirement, just as most colleges now require students to take courses on pressing social issues like gender and race.
Since Temple is in the process of switching from Core to General Education, they have room to make dramatic changes to the list of courses that all undergraduates must take before graduation.
The administration should take advantage of this opportunity to be truly cutting edge by creating an environmental studies requirement right now. The earth will thank us later.
Daniel J. Kristie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.