Selected readings on US charter schools
Since the Industrial Revolution, humans in the developed world have increasingly isolated themselves from the natural world. For 70 years, the number of people raised on farms has declined steadily. We demand more from the land but understand it less.
How many of us today know where our food is grown and produced, how water cycles through the world, or what the true impacts are of humans on the earth? How do we balance environmental conservation and human rights as our population grows?
Our children are driven to planned activities. They have light when they want it, food of all sorts, and climate control. Sheltered from dangers perceived and real, many have not had the chance to discover wildlife. Children don’t even look out the window at the world going by as they are increasingly plugged into artificial worlds.
Yet nothing is better than real-world interactions for truly developing curiosity, empathy and understanding. As America’s demographic makeup changes and more of our children are educated in large public schools under pressure to meet standards, who will assure that they truly understand the natural world? Who will support future conservation efforts?
We are fortunate in Rhode Island to not only have a diverse habitat and demography, but also a solid history of supporting land conservation. It is natural then for our state to be the seed location for a small public high school dedicated to offering students from diverse communities a college-preparatory education to ready them for collaboration, reflection, leadership and — not least — an understanding of the natural world.
Located in West Greenwich, The Greene School (TGS) is Rhode Island’s only Expeditionary Learning School. A charter public school, TGS provides — tuition free — an education grounded in direct experience with the natural world and a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of natural resources and human cultures.
In “The Illusion of Preservation,” published in the Journal of Biogeography, Mary M. Berlik, David B. Kittredge and David R. Foster from the Harvard University Forest make a case for sustainable forestry: “As a nation of environmentally aware citizens, the U.S. champions nature protection, especially within its borders. Notably and hypocritically, the protectionist attitude often fails to address the link between high levels of domestic consumption and the unavoidable impacts this imposes on the global environment, especially beyond U.S. borders. . . . [T]here is an … intriguing sociological question of whether affluent citizens might alter their patterns of resource consumption if the environmental consequences of this behavior was apparent in their own backyards.” TGS graduates are fluent in origins and impacts, in causes and effects. They are our future environmental stewards.
Can we raise a generation of environmentally literate citizens even as America’s demography rapidly changes to a multiracial and urban society? We must. Can we also meet the demands to increase proficiency in our high-school graduates? We must.
Conservation-minded leaders must take notice of what is happening in public education today and look to these students for future solutions to the environmental sustainability issues facing our world.
A citizenry with no understanding of its ecosystem will live solely in the moment, with no knowledge of how to plan for conservation. We can do better, but we must start with children.
Source: Providence Journal – by Amy Pratt