The Lone Oak Blog

What is Environmental Education?

While pursuing my advanced degree in Environmental Education (EE), one of the introductory course professors asked us to write and then revise, after class readings and discussion, our own definition of Environmental Education. At first this seemed easy. I mean I knew what I was getting into; I had been providing EE for over ten years before taking the plunge to formalize my knowledge. But, as I sat down to write and revise my definition, it became more difficult. Before the revisions, I wrote down only what I knew from my own experience and from reading academic materials. It was an adequate but not fully informed definition. After exposure to my classmates’ experiences and opinions, the instruction of our professor, more focused reading in the field, and additional reflection about what EE I provided and how I provided it, my definition evolved. It had to, for there were aspects to the discipline I had not considered.

My definition of Environmental Education is a long, run-on sentence! It is hard to remember but I think writing it in this fashion was a course requirement. So, while probably not the most grammatically correct, it does exhibit the complexity and broad scope of the field.

“Environmental Education is a continually evolving discipline, extending from the precursors of nature study, conservation, preservation, and ecology – among others, to include an interdisciplinary body of knowledge that instructs, motivates, and calls to action human beings to recognize the interconnectedness of all life and live harmoniously with nature, acting as stewards to protect the natural world and initiate community actions on local, national, and global levels by developing critical thinking skills that will analyze issues and form solutions to the environmental problems that arise from human interactions with the natural world and man-made components affecting the natural world in which we live. Although complex, the discipline can be learned and applied with co-existing action across the generations, engaging even the very young in its process.” – C. Labuzzetta, 2015.

As an environmental educator, one is constantly reminded and awed by the broadness of the field’s scope. The discipline of EE attempts to encompass nearly everything humankind is about, including but not limited to economics, politics, geography, culture, community, and a myriad of societal factors.

Five years after having to define the discipline for myself, I believe Environmental Education is still greatly misunderstood, in general. This realization came after some recent experiences in the field. We cannot just “plop” children or adults on our lands or insert humans into our local ecosystems and expect an innate understanding of the issues. And, without understanding or the provision of information, a call to action is fruitless! EE is more than providing a “feel good” experience for free to the local citizenry. It is establishing a personal connection to the land, water, air, and/or species of interest/concern that are all part of a biodiverse environment for each and every human. Once that connection is established then, and only then, can we ask people to “save the earth” by taking action. This especially applies to children, as David Sobel author of Beyond Ecophobia (2005), Place Based Education (2013) and other books, has written.

As a former pediatric nurse and, subsequent environmental educator with over 16 years of experience working with students in local K-12 educational systems, as well as adults in our communities, I truly believe in Sobel’s premise. Environmental Educators must be passionate, engaging human beings willing to extend their love for the earth and awe for the natural world to others, especially children. For our children will inherit the earth and we must provide a LOCAL and RELATABLE connection for them to want to continue to care for her.

I hope you agree and join me in this journey. Thanks for stopping by today!

~ Carol ~ @ The Lone Oak.

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