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Back to July Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 306 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JULY 2011

Maryland Students Must be 'Green' to Graduate
Maryland students entering high school this fall will be the first class required to prove they are "environmentally literate" in order to graduate. Governor Martin O'Malley said the policy adopted by the state board of education (SBOE) last month makes Maryland the first state to enact such a requirement, and called the measure "a defining moment for education."

The new regulation requires districts to integrate lessons on conservation, so-called "smart growth," and "the health of our natural world" into core subjects like science, social studies, math and language arts. ("Smart growth" has numerous meanings, but often translates into restrictions on private land development and disincentives to drive personal automobiles.) Local school systems will determine how to infuse the state environmental literacy standards into their curriculums and how to assess student mastery of the material, but they must report to the state every five years on what they are doing to meet the requirements.

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Observers note that this isn't Maryland's first green education mandate; in 1989 the state education code was amended to require "a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary program of environmental education within current curricular offerings at least once in the early, middle, and high school learning years." What is different this time, said Donald R. Baugh, vice president for education at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, is that all students must participate. Previously, schools were supposed to offer environmental instruction, but there was no mandate for every student to take those courses.

Education or Indoctrination?

But what exactly is "environmental literacy" anyway? The SBOE says all content is left up to local school boards, but State Senator J.B. Jennings is concerned that the measure leaves too much room for ideological indoctrination.

"What kind of education is it going to be?" asked Jennings. "Is it going to be fact-based? Or is it going to be . . . politically driven? And you can think, is it going to be about global warming or climate change?"

Local school boards won't get any extra money to integrate the environmental literacy standards into existing curriculum or to provide the required professional development to assist teachers in meeting the new mandates. So where can local districts and teachers turn for ready-made instructional materials?

Here is a sampling of the kinds of sources eager to provide content to schools: The Department of Energy (DOE), under the leadership of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, has produced lesson plans to persuade kids to use less energy. (Chu is a fervent believer in man-made global warming, and once said that average Americans don't have the know-how or will to do what it takes to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions without government mandates.)

As part of its educational campaign, the DOE created an "Energy Awareness Quiz" and an accompanying activity for grades 9-12. A primary learning objective of these two resources appears to be producing guilt for living in the most productive and prosperous civilization of all time. For example, students learn that North Americans use about 50 times as much energy as people living in developing countries. Though developing nations aspire to have the standard of living most Americans have, the DOE wants us to be more like them.

The instructions for the student learning activity — called "How Much CO2 Do You Spew?" — assert that the controversy over global warming is over because "many investigations" have proven it to be a "well-documented" fact. After students calculate their contribution to the supposedly dire greenhouse effect, they are told that each person's "rightful share of CO2 emissions is about 1.5 metric tons annually." The activity guide then poses this question: "Do you think that some countries have the right to contribute more greenhouse gases than other countries?"

Lest some students miss the not-so-subtle message of this activity, the guide takes them by the scruff of the neck and wags a finger in their face with this pronouncement: "Your [calculated CO2 emissions] may shock you, but it should help you to see that lowering your CO2 quotient is necessary to your very survival." It seems that the DOE curriculum writers adopted fear as an educational methodology to assist the "average American" high school student who doesn't have the "know-how or will" to adopt third-world living standards by choice.

Another organization all too happy to provide Maryland teachers with help implementing the environmental literacy mandate is the U.S. Partnership for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). The K-12 and teacher education sector of the U.S. Partnership describes "education for sustainability" as necessary so that students will make "sustainable choices" that will lead to sustainability's "triple bottom line of social equity, environmental health, and economic prosperity." Those in the know recognize these terms as code words for wealth redistribution, radical environmentalism, population control, and making private property subject to government control.

There is no indication that students will learn about "Climategate" or dissenting opinions about global warming from meteorologists and other scientists. It is also doubtful that social studies courses will examine the green cronyism of government leaders and General Electric's Jeffrey Immelt.

National 'No Child Left Inside' Legislation Proposed

The Maryland initiative comes as advocates for environmental education continue to push federal legislation called "No Child Left Inside." The measure would authorize $500 million over five years for environmental education as part of the overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It has more than 120 co-sponsors in the House, and 19 in the Senate, most of whom are Democrats.

The core elements of No Child Left Inside are to provide funding for teacher training, offer financial incentives for states to develop environmental literacy plans, utilize the local habitat for learning activities (thus, the title "No Child Left Inside"), and to promote the integration of environmental education into core subject areas. Funds would go only to states with environmental literacy plans approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

The adoption of environmental literacy requirements gives Maryland an edge for federal funding if "No Child Left Inside" becomes law; this is not surprising since the lead sponsor of the House bill is Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat. Sarbanes introduced the Congressional bill as a way to "grow the next generation of scientists and innovators to solve our energy and environment challenges."

But Brian Newell, press secretary for Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee, said it is a bad idea to create "yet another new government program that will compete with and drain resources from existing federal education priorities." He added, "With many schools struggling to raise student achievement in reading, writing, and math, spending half-a-billion dollars to prioritize a curriculum already taught in many classrooms is both costly and misguided."

Even the national coalition formed to advocate for "No Child Left Inside" boasts that most states are already implementing some sort of environmental education through gubernatorial executive orders, state laws, or other actions — without the need for federal laws or funding. Additionally, 48 other states are considering green education directives similar to Maryland's, according to the organization.

Myron Ebell, Director of the Center of Energy and Environment for the free market think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, offered an even more blunt assessment of green literacy requirements than Maryland Senator J.B. Jennings. "That is not really education," he said. "It's propaganda and it's designed to raise up a new generation of easily led, poorly educated, and misinformed students." (foxnews.com, 6-27-11; edweek.org, 7-16-10, Associated Press, 6-21-11)


 
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