By Ilana Kowarski
Uniting in a common cause for the first time, the NEA and the Ecological Society of America (ESA) co-sponsored a summit which attracted scholars from around the world, including acclaimed polar explorer Will Steger. The summit, “Environmental Literacy for a Sustainable World,” focused on the following question: How should educators prepare students to make choices about the environment?
The summit was conceived and organized by DC Randle, a Minnesotan high school science teacher who was frustrated by his students’ inability to engage with environmental issues. An NEA and ESA member, Randle hoped the two organizations could work together to overcome students’ apathy about the environment, he said.
“We want to walk out of here with results, not just white paper,” he said. Randle, who leads a study abroad program in the Amazon Rainforest, said schools need to introduce more programs like his, which give students hands-on experiences with the environment.
“The more you make the environment local and relevant to students, the better,” he said. “It’s hard for students to care about the rainforest when they can’t see it and they don’t have the money to go there, but if you make a comparison to something in their neighborhood, you can show them why it matters.”
NEA treasurer and secretary Becky Pringle agreed that educators should make environmental education more practical. “If we want our young people to see the importance of conservation, if we want them to be good stewards of natural resources, then we need to show them how to act so they can lead the way,” she said.
Other speakers stressed the importance of engaging with those who do not believe in global warming. In his speech, “Eye witness to Global Warming,” Steger said that educators needed to combat “the misinformation coming from conservatives.” His journeys to the North and South Pole proved that climate change was a real problem to be reckoned with, he said.
Nevertheless, Steger urged educators to tolerate dissent. “It’s very important for us to be tolerant of other viewpoints and not to start slugging,” he said.