Environmental educators and “environmentalists” have the dilemma of dichotomy. The public and the media to consider all environmental educators to be environmental activists (Hug, n.d.). They consider them to be one in the same. To a certain degree many environmental educators are environmental activist to a certain degree, at least from the standpoint that many environmental educators have a deep appreciation for the environment and wish to spread knowledge about the environment to others, in the hopes that someone else will be able to develop or enhance their appreciation of nature themselves. The term “environmentalist” has been used to mean a certain radical, sometimes rebellious actions that place environmental concerns over almost any other agenda. This research when viewpoints on how we view environmental education
Environmentalists have developed a somewhat negative reputation, being associated with protests, and sometimes downright sabotage in order to protect the environment (Hug, n.d.). An environmental educator is a world citizen is a world citizen who uses knowledge as their tool (Hug, n.d.). Environmental educators have a duty to be unbiased in their presentation of the information.
Kwong (1997) asks the question of when or if an environmental educator should every take action, risking their reputation as an educator, rather than an activist. Environmental education focuses on changing values and attitudes through education. It stems from an inner frustration with the environmental inaction of the general population (Kwong, 1997). Kwong’s argument focuses on the school system and how environmental issues should be presented. Kwong agrees with providing education from an early age, but disagrees with presenting the information in such a way that the person has only one “right” choice that they can make. This all comes down to the amount of faith that one has in the ability of future generations to make a sound decision based on good judgment and consideration of the issues. Environmental behaviorists are focused on changing behaviors that lead to a healthier environment (Kwong, 1997). The question is how far they should go, especially when their actions involve shaping the minds of school children and at what point does it violate the precepts of a free society?
Environmental education is a process of developing a knowledge base that continues to expand over time. In the educational setting, there is often a fine line between education and advocacy in the classroom (Wilke, 1997). The purpose of environmental education is to end in behaviors that represent advocacy for the environment (Wilke, 1997). When stated in this manner, there is little distinguishable difference between environmental educators and environmentalists, other than the means used to get to the end result. It is hoped that the students will draw their own conclusions and take actions that represent in greater citizenship and concern for fellow man (Wilke, 1997). Teachers who promote their own perspective have an impact on the future course of action in their students do an injustice to their students and to the field of environmental education (Wilke, 1997).
Attacks on environmental education focus on accuracy of the information being presented and the development of a “balanced” scientific approach (Holsman, 2001). One of the most prevalent examples of this is the issue of global warming. This a topic that even the “experts” in the field cannot agree upon. The body of information available has been infused with the opinions and political agendas of those involved. In many cases, certain authorities have been accused of taking the information out of context. This leaves the environmental educator with a mash of unreliable and conflicting information. At this point, the educator cannot simply choose to skip the topic, particularly one of such prominence in society. This leaves them with no other choice than to choose which information they will present to their students.
In this manner, they are being forced to form an opinion, take a stand, and present the information to the class. They have become an activist, even if their original intention was to present factual information and remain an educator. The controversial nature of many topics confronting today’s environmental educator force them to take action and cross the line, transforming them into an unintentional activist. This leaves the teacher vulnerable to political attack by those who disagree with their opinions. In this case, the teacher becomes a victim of attack and potential loss of reputation.
Holsman (2001) mentions the role of lobbyists, federal, and state funding in the direction of the curriculum. In some cases, the teacher may have a set agenda that must be taught, or risk losing funding. In this case, the teacher is essentially being held hostage and forced to distribute the “approved” information. They are acting as an activist in spreading the opinions of those in authority, even if they have sufficient evidence the disputes the evidence.
The original question of when an environmental educator should be an activist was explored in this research study. An educator that crosses the line and becomes an activist places themselves in grave danger of losing their reputation. The media has helped to build the concept in the public mind that environmentalists are radicals who sometimes resort to violent actions in the name of a cause. When the educational system requires that a particularly side of the story be presented, if the teacher presented a balanced perspective, they are being an activist. This research indicates a need for the development of clear guidelines for environmental educators to make certain that the message that they present in in alignment with their goals of neutrality and the dissemination of knowledge.
- Kwong, J. (1997). Should action be a goal? No. PERC Reports 15(5), 3-4. Retrieved from http://perc.org/articles/opinions-environmental-education
- Wilke, R. (1997). Should action be a goal? Yes. PERC Reports 15(5), 5-6. Retrieved from http://perc.org/articles/opinions-environmental-education-0
- Holsman, R. H. (2001). The politics of environmental education. Journal of Environmental Education 23(2), 4-7. doi:10.1080/00958960109599131
- Hug, J. (n.d.). Two Hats. Originally in Aldrich, James L., A.M. & George, A.A. (eds.). 1977. The Report of the North American Regional Seminar on Environmental Education for the Real World. Columbus, OH: SMEAC information Reference Center.