Training Minds to Consider the Environment: California’s Proposed Environmental Education Curriculum in Primary and Secondary Public Schools

By: Jessica Layne Drake, Staff Member

The children of our nation are, unquestionably, our future. They are the future presidents, congressmen, teachers, and parents who will pass on the American history and values that are taught to them from this generation. Most of this knowledge might come from the home, but a secondary, influential source is the school – most likely this influence comes from public education systems. The power of the school curriculum first made news this year with a New York Magazine article entitled How Christians Were the Founders, which discussed the Texas School Board's push to place emphasis on the Founder's intent to create a "Christian Nation" in their students' Social Studies education. Russell Shorto, How Christians Were the Founders, New York Times, Feb. 14, 2010, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/magazine/14texbooks-t.html?pagewanted=1. However, Texas is not the only one making changes to its curriculum in an effort to educate in a different way. California, while not as influential with textbook publishers as Texas (mostly because of its despairing financial state), has been working with the State's Environmental Protection Agency to find a way to bring a greater focus on the environment in elementary and secondary public schools – hoping to encourage students to grow up to become future scientists and green technology leaders. California Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.calepa.ca.gov/education/eei/ (last visited Mar. 1, 2010).


This initiative, termed the Education and Environment Initiative (EEI), would affect over 1,000 schools that serve over 6 million children across the state of California. Id. This movement began with legislation mandating the curriculum in public schools in 2003, and required several different California agencies to work together in this nation-leading effort. Id; See 2003 Cal. Legis. Serv. Ch. 665 (A.B. 1548) (West); 2005 Cal. Legis. Serv. Ch. 581 (A.B. 1721) (West). As of this year, proposed legislation will further the initiative in mandatory inclusion of environmental issues taught in public schools. Cal.Pub.Res.Code § 71303 (2009). On January 7, 2010, the California Environmental Protection Agency released a statement declaring that the final approval of this proposed curriculum was granted by the California State Board of Education. California Environmental Protection Agency, Press Release: State's First Environmental Education Curriculum Receives Approval from the State Board of Education (2010), http://www.calepa.ca.gov/PressRoom/Releases/2010/Jan06EEI.pdf. Its implementation, therefore, appears imminent.


Specifically, the curriculum will encourage and teach environmental protection and preservation that will work to establish a green economy in the state. Id. Further, it will expand environmental literacy among students and teach them problem-solving mechanisms in particular environmental areas. Id. Collectively, it will impact public school children in grades K-12 covering 85 EEI Curriculum units that will cover content standards in both Science and History-Social Science. California Environmental Protection Agency,
http://www.calepa.ca.gov/Education/EEI/Curriculum/Default.htm#CurriculumUnits.


While California is the first state to attempt this type of curriculum for their primary and secondary schools, hopefully it will not be the last. Our young students are who we will want to look for in the future for imagination and initiative in a continuing effort to protect and preserve the environment so vital to our world. As Senator Fran Pavley, who first introduced the 2003 legislation, stated in support of the curriculum, "today's environmental issues are integrated into everyday life, and this curriculum gives us the opportunity to help shape our future leaders and educate them about preserving our environment through their everyday academics." California Environmental Protection Agency, Press Release: State's First Environmental Education Curriculum Receives Approval from the State Board of Education (2010), http://www.calepa.ca.gov/PressRoom/Releases/2010/Jan06EEI.pdf. If we support a better environmental education to our students, we very well can assist, today, those future leaders in bettering their own world in the future, for tomorrow is only a day away.