Educating the Next Generation of Environmental Stewards

Cross posted from the Ed Blog.

Last week, the Department of Education held the national Sustainability Education Summit: Citizenship and Pathways for a Green Economy at the Washington Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. Approximately 300 participants spent two days discussing ideas and proposals for a national agenda to advance a sustainable economy through education. Participants came from federal agencies, higher education, career and technical education, community colleges, K-12 education, business, and environmental organizations. Congress requested that the Department organize the summit in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008.

On Tuesday, the conferees were addressed by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who stated that the Department of Education had “been mostly absent from the movement to educate our children to be stewards of our environment” and had not “been doing enough in the sustainability movement.” But the Secretary further stated, “I promise you that we will be a committed partner in the national effort to build a more environmentally literate and responsible society.” The Secretary went on to speak to the issue of the central role educators must play in promoting a culture of change in our schools and in our communities. “President Obama has made clean, renewable energy a priority because, as he says, it’s the best way to ‘truly transform our economy, to protect our security, and save our planet.’”

The Secretary pointed to the efforts being made across federal government agencies to link education and sustainability. “The National Science Foundation has created a network of projects that are advancing programs that teach about the impact of climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency makes grants to support environmental literacy through its own grant program. The Department of Labor has awarded $490 million to support job training in skills needed in green jobs. All of this money comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.” Through the administration’s Blueprint for Reform, the department will support local efforts to teach environmental education as part of a well-rounded education.

On Monday, Under Secretary Martha Kanter reinforced the Department of Education’s commitment to “focus on policies and strategies to educate our citizenry and to support clearly articulated education pathways toward a sustainable future.” The Under Secretary spoke to the role of teachers as agents of change toward empowering our youth to make better choices. “Quite simply, the daily choices our young people make will shape the future of our planet – and America’s teachers are the gateway to giving every student a ‘green’ education.”

As the chancellor of Foothill-De Anza Community College District, the Under Secretary led the colleges’ sustainability initiatives and served on the Steering Committee of the President’s Climate Commitment. As chancellor, the Under Secretary saw that her institution “partnered closely with area K-12 schools and universities with the understanding that stakeholder engagement is a powerful catalyst at all levels of our education system and communities.” This reinforces the department’s underlying support of higher education as “transformational leaders and role models for the nation’s green revolution.”

The Under Secretary also emphasized that the “effort to define pathways to green, clean-technology careers, and to build a competent 21st century green workforce, is in the field of career and technical education.” Established programs of study “combine rigorous academic and technical content with employer validated ‘green technology’ standards to prepare secondary and post-secondary students for high-skill, high-wage, high-demand employment in ‘green-focused’ fields including the President’s priority areas of energy, transportation, housing, and construction.” The Obama administration is committed to the creation of a world-class workforce, including “a special emphasis on promoting student achievement and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.”

The design of the Green Summit allowed broad sector participation in a conversation with experts in the field of sustainability. Panelists from institutions across the country gave brief presentations, followed by discussion among panelists, and with the participants at large. Participants then moved into small group discussion to discuss actionable steps that can be taken toward the goals of the mandate.

Join the conversation:

  1. How is your school involved with promoting sustainability either through curriculum or practice?
  2. How much community involvement is there with promoting sustainability at your school?
  3. What specific sustainability projects are you promoting within your organization or institution?
Leigh Jenkins works in the Office of Vocational and Adult Education at the Department of Education
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