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Poorer Students Rank the Environment a Low Priority

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Washington

Poor students are much less likely than their wealthier counterparts to consider improving the environment a high priority for making the world a better place, new polls released by the Environmental Protection Agency indicate.

In the surveys, both a group of poor students and a sample from the general population cited battling AIDS as the most important way to improve the quality of life.

The National Environmental Education and Training Foundation, a group chartered by Congress and charged with improving environmental literacy, released the findings last week.

Students from the general population sample tended to list environmental protection as their second priority.

Among poor students, however, homelessness, the economy, kidnapping, crime, discrimination, and guns led the environment as issues they thought important.

Poor students also were far more likely to list lead poisoning and "not enough energy" as serious environmental threats.

Francis Pandolfi, the foundtaion's chairman, said the surveys were commissioned to "identify the critical gaps in environmental education so that our efforts, among others, can be effectively targeted to filling in those gaps."

The polls, conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide, surveyed two groups of students: 982 students in grades 4 to 12 nationwide, and 2,139 students in the same age group who live in communities where at least 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Television's Effects

The surveys also indicate that students' knowledge of environmental issues is shaped by what they see on television.

Seventy-four percent of the students from the general population obtained information from television, as did 71 percent of the poor students.

But about half of both groups also cited school as a source of information on the environment.

States increasingly are requiring some environmental education, but critics, including some environmentalists, have argued that many environmental-education programs stress indoctrination and propaganda over a science-based approach to teaching. (See Education Week, 06/16/93.)

The survey also found that:

  • Girls report a higher level of knowledge and concern about environmental problems than boys.
  • Only a handful of students in either of the groups polled--14 percent and 11 percent, respectively--claimed to know "a lot" about environmental problems.

Roughly half of the respondents in both groups claimed to know "a fair amount."

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