Environmental Educators Set Meeting To Return Issue to National Agenda

By Peter J. West — September 06, 1989 3 min read

Estes Park, Colo.--Environmental education, which has almost exclusively been shaped by state and local initiatives during the past decade, may regain national prominence following a major forum on the issue next week in the nation’s capital.

Precollegiate educators are scheduled to join national and international experts on Sept. 12 and 13 at a “public hearing” in Washington, D.C., to help shape a “national strategy” for disseminating information about combating environmental threats.

The two-day conference, entitled “Planet At Risk: Charting an Environmental Ethic,” was announced here last month during a joint annual meeting of the North American Association for Environmental Education and the Conservation Education Association.

The Washington meeting is a cooperative venture of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Alliance for Environmental Education--an umbrella group that includes among its more than 40 member organizations the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association.

Precollegiate educators scheduled to speak at the hearing include David Engleson, an environmental education consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction; Robert Howe, director of the U.S. Education Department’s eric Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education at Ohio State University; Rudolph Schaefer, executive director of the Western Regional Environmental Education Council; and Zoneth Overbey, principal of the Kimbark Environmental Education Magnet School in San Bernadino, Calif.

Also on the list of 25 participants are representatives from the United Nations, the World Bank, the New York Academy of Sciences, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other postsecondary institutions, and officers of several private corporations.

“We’re trying to break [the issue] down to look at some different vantage points,” said Steven C. Kussmann, president of the Alliance for Environmental Education. “We’re looking at the economic issues as well as the education [aspect].”

Mr. Kussmann said his organization will follow up on the Washington meeting with a series of regional roundtables to gather further recommendations for a research-based planning document outlining the national strategy that the epa will later publish.

Attendees at last month’s conference were told that the Washington meeting will help professional educators discover their role in helping the public understand the enormity of today’s environmental problems.

Some noted that a handful of states--including California, Florida, Maryland, and Wisconsin--already have made environmental education an integral part of their curricula.

In general, however, Mr. Kussmann said, “the people who are in charge look at environmental edu4cation as a fringe religion. I don’t think they’ve caught up with the sophistication of the environmental education movement.”

The Washington meeting also reflects a greater emphasis on education--including K-12 education--at the e.p.a. under its new administrator, William K. Reilly.

The epa stands to win an even larger role in environmental education through legislation introduced by Senator Quentin N. Burdick, Democrat of North Dakota. The bill, “the national environmental education act of 1989,” would establish an office of environmental educationwithin the epa and set aside money for grants to educators. (See Education Week, April 19, 1989.)

The measure is similar to a 1970 statute that expired in the early 1980’s. The 1970 law gave responsibility for environmental education jointly to the Education Department and the epa, but neither agency gave particular prominence to the function after the law lapsed.

Although several speakers at last month’s meeting seemed to welcome the new federal efforts, others were more skeptical, noting that companion legislation has yet to be introduced in the House.

A version of this article appeared in the September 06, 1989 edition of Education Week as Environmental Educators Set Meeting To Return Issue to National Agenda