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Education Reporter

Environmental Education Spreads Errors, Scares Children

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Environmental activism is rampant in the public schools and in many private schools. Textbooks and children's magazines, such as Scholastic News and Time for Kids, promote almost exclusively a gloom-and-doom forecast of environmental ruin at the hands of humans (see sidebar, page 4). The Kyoto Global Warming Treaty, which would significantly damage the American economy and our way of life while doing little or nothing to curtail pollution in developing countries, is often presented as the solution to the world's environmental problems.

In the Capital Research Center's March 1999 issue of Organization Trends, research assistant Matthew Brown of the Political Economy Research Center in Bozeman, MT, states: "Parents, scholars, reporters, and even some environmentalists have objected to teachers' often exaggerated and one-sided discussions of many environmental problems, as well as their pessimistic tone and emphasis on action."

The Independent Commission on Environmental Education (now the Environmental Literacy Council) supports Brown's observation. The Commission is led by Robert Jastrow, former director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and includes other distinguished scientists as members. Its purpose is to review environmental education programs and materials. According to its chairman, Robert L. Sproull, president emeritus of the University of Rochester, some excellent, factual resources have been found, but many "ignore or misstate the most important and interesting scientific questions at the heart of an education about the environment."

Flawed Teaching

The Commission found that many textbooks and curricula teach children about the environment by instilling fear and inciting them to action. Helen Cowcher's book for young children entitled Rainforest (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998) is about "an evil man on a bulldozer destroying the rainforest and its animals. Nature is saved when rains wash the bulldozer over a cliff; a drawing depicts the man falling to his death." The book explains: "The machine was washed away! But the creatures of the rainforest were safe."

Another text, Concepts and Challenges in Earth Science, by Leonard Bernstein, et al. (Globe Book Co., 1991) warns students that global warming could raise sea levels until "New York City would be almost covered with water. Only the tops of very tall buildings will be above water." According to Brown, most scientists believe that, if global warming occurs (which many scientists seriously question), the rising sea level will be measured in inches, not hundreds of feet.

Some textbooks point children to radical environmental groups for more information, such as Greenpeace, Earth First!, and Zero Population Growth. Earth First! advocates "direct action" sabotage against government, industry and private property to further its radical agenda.

In researching their book Facts Not Fear: A Parent's Guide to Teaching Children About the Environment (see Education Reporter, May 1998), Dr. Michael Sanera and Jane S. Shaw reviewed more than 140 textbooks and 170 children's books on the environment. They repeatedly found biased, one-sided views and worst-case scenarios presented in lieu of scientifically sound information.

Governmental Advocacy

Vice President Al Gore's 1992 book Earth in the Balance proposes "the establishment of a cooperative plan for educating the world's citizens about our global environment." In his article, Matthew Brown writes: "The U.S. Commissioner of Education, Francis Keppel, explained the genius of such a strategy back in 1976: 'The public schools have been described as the best sucker list in America. Because of the delivery powers of the attendance officer, educational policy is highly vulnerable to use by special interests to forward their personal or public causes. Sooner or later, many social reformers get around to trying to influence what is taught and how.'"

In 1997, President Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development issued a Task Force Report called "Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education" (see Education Reporter, Dec. 1997), which called for a "purposeful refocusing of the nation's education system," using "sustainability" as a catalyst for the "restructuring of educational institutions, curricula, and teacher training."

The door was opened to government resources for environmental education advocacy in 1970 with the passage of the National Environmental Education Act, at the same time that the United Nations was also embracing environmental education. Brown's article notes that the formation of the U.N.'s Environment Programme (UNEP) eventually led to a definition of environmental education that "includes the mandate to foster 'attitudes, motivations, and commitments to make informed decisions and take responsible action.' " This definition has influenced environmental education in America.

EPA Instruction

The National Environmental Education Act of 1990 combined the Office of Environmental Education (OEE) with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), thereby expanding the EPA's enforcement role to include education.

While a majority of adults say they favor "environmental education" for schoolchildren, few are aware of the content that is presented through programs and organizations funded by EPA grants. Project WILD, for example, is described as offering "a curriculum that focuses on wildlife, and addresses the 'need for human beings to develop as responsible citizens of our planet.' " These programs and curricula are promoted by many environmental organizations that are funded by government and private foundation grants.

The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), which has international reach, is cited by Matthew Brown as "the most important of the environmental education organizations." It receives significant federal funds as well as support from big business. Its leaders tend to be university educators in environmental studies. The NAAEE's National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education develops guidelines for elementary and secondary school programs. Its 1996 guidelines endorsed the U.N.'s idea of creating "new patterns of behavior of individuals, groups and society as a whole towards the environment."

Brown reports that the NAAEE, with funding from the EPA, will be allowed to determine how teachers should be trained in environmental education, how they should develop and select classroom materials, and how they should evaluate students' progress.

Some curricula that reach schoolchildren are produced by groups such as Zero Population Growth (ZPG). ZPG's publication Earth Matters: Studies for our Global Future was criticized by the Independent Commission on Environmental Education because it "fails to meet the most minimal requirements of empirical accuracy."

Though many in the scientific community would echo that statement about much of today's "environmental education," the environmental education bureaucracy has nonetheless, in the words of Mountain States Legal Foundation's William Perry Pendley, "seized the moral and rhetorical high ground." Matthew Brown says it is up to parents, students, experts such as Dr. Michael Sanera, and groups such as the Environmental Literacy Council to force the environmental education elite to provide children with fair and accurate instruction.

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