Md. Schools Require Environmental Literacy

My home state of Maryland has become the first state in the nation to require that students be environmentally literate before they graduate. The policy doesn’t create additional class requirements for students, but rather mandates that teachers in social studies and science classes reformulate their curricula to incorporate information about conservation, smart growth and the health of the natural world.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, was quite pleased with the decision, calling it “a defining moment for education in Maryland." He also noted that its implementation will not require additional staff or funding but would make the Old Line State a better candidate to receive an environmental education grant under proposed legislation to renew the No Child Left Behind Act.

This requirement could be a boon to Maryland students. It would be great for students to have an understanding of suburban sprawl, which is endemic to a large portion of the state. If schools are able to instill in their students a drive to turn off the lights when they’re not using them or to use a fan while turning the air conditioning down, these students could be part of a generation that sees conservation as a default position rather than a sacrifice. Indeed, thanks to my Maryland education, I still wince when I see people let their cars idle because they don’t feel like turning the ignition switch, and when they leave the water running when they brush their teeth.

At the same time, though, if schools and teachers don’t embrace the spirit of the mandate, it could just end up sucking up finite instructional resources and boring students who have to sit through the obligatory “environment” lesson.

I had this happen in several of my classes in high school and college at the University of Maryland when teachers were required to include information about women and minorities in a subject. While it’s important that courses include contributions made by those society has often marginalized, these lessons often felt more like boxes teachers sought to check off to satisfy their superiors than the transmission of actual, relevant information. Instead of benefiting from these mandates as legislators and university regents desired, my teachers were just going through the motions on these subjects, and I knew it. As a result, I cared less about the material, too. If wasn’t worth their full attention, why should it be worth mine?

So before we rejoice over the little environmentalists Maryland schools will be creating, let’s see how this educational mandate is actually carried out.

Posted by Laura Williams on Jun 23, 2011

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