Reflections: Environmental Education and Sustainability Workshop

by Rensi on March 5, 2013

early-spring-at-csulaAt the advice of Dorit, I attended the Environmental Education and Sustainability Workshop at California State University, Los Angeles on February 23rd. As a blogger for a non-profit organization, I had thought-provoking discussions about sustainable solutions to environmental issues with a group of K-12 and university educators. The 5-hour workshop proffered enormous technical tools for formal and non-formal environmental education, highlighted local and global role models in pursuing eco-conscious lifestyles, and shed light on the challenges facing environmentalism enthusiasts.

The Tools

While all the attendees agreed on the importance of raising environmental literacy, we acknowledged that we might favor different routes towards that goal. Among the technical tools offered by the workshop leaders and the participants, the following three resources stood out to me:

  • Saving Energy at Home and School: The NEED Project’s Saving Energy program presents the Student and Family Guide and the Teacher Guide for energy saving lessons at home and school. I particularly like the light meter, flicker checker, and electricity usage monitor mentioned in the guidebook, as measuring energy use is the first step in energy conservation.
  • Rain Garden: This four-minute YouTube video is an eco-friendly gardening tip about making the most of rainwater. When I was watching the video at the workshop, I couldn’t stop wondering whether the teachers and students in the film “The Learning Garden” (as presented in our December 2012 EcoSalon) would like this idea.
  • san-franciscoSimCity: While it began as a city-building computer and console video game series, SimCity has the potential to be a teaching tool for demonstrating fundamental characteristics of sustainable development, such as balance, interdependence, and civic responsibility.

I prefer the above three resources because I am more of a kinesthetic learner. I love developing my environmental literacy through hands-on experiences. However, if you prefer visual or audio learning styles, you will benefit from the booklets and lectures given at the workshop.

The People

At the beginning of the workshop, I regarded my peer participants simply as K-12 and university educators. Towards the end of the day, however, I began to look at them through another lens:

Sitting to my right was a mother who ardently supported her son’s recycling project and patiently dissuaded him from giving up when the little boy shouted at a pile of bottles and cans, “I don’t want to do it anymore.” Sitting to my left was a former vegetarian whose background in chemistry made her suspect the “greenness” of green food. Sitting across from me was a former marijuana smoker whose mention of “marijuana menus” greatly enriched our discussions of complex environmental issues regarding the pot farms in Northern California.

The people I met at the workshop are not just environmental and energy educators. They are my fellow earth residents who care about and struggle with the impacts of their activities on the environment.

The people who left the deepest impressions on me were Dr. Manisha Javeri and Guadalupe Gamiz. Dr. Javeri was one of the three workshop leaders. In the introductory presentation, she talked about her efforts in facilitating solar cooking in India. She explained that although the Indian culture believes in sharing knowledge freely, dissemination of several research and best practices are not that prevalent and organized as it is in the western world, which is one of the reasons why several innovative practices in India do not get much global attention. Fortunately, the government is trying to change that now. After the workshop, I searched “solar cooking” and discovered that the world’s largest solar cooking class took place in Jahna, India on January 19, 2013. It looks to me like the Indian government’s efforts have started to pay off.

While Dr. Javeri is a global role model in energy conservation, Ms. Gamiz amazed all of us at the workshop with her tireless efforts to translate environmental enthusiasm into action. She told stories about how she guided her K-12 students to save energy at home and school and how her students composed songs and wrote poems about environmentalism, but she also pointed out that most of the environmental workshops she attended were very informative, yet not action-oriented.

The Challenges

“The challenges facing environmental enthusiasts” was a major theme of group discussions at the workshop. For example, a high school teacher quoted his students’ cynical reaction to polluted water: “Today, everything can kill us!” A university teacher suggested universities give students more time and units to work on environment-related projects. Non-profit organization representatives wished to participate in more student projects when applying for grants. Several participants called for more eco-friendly policies and energy audits.

treesThe challenges that I am most concerned about are the pressure from profit-minded corporations and the environmental literacy of environmentalism enthusiasts. Mercenary corporations can harm the environment not only by wasting nonrenewable resources and emitting pollutants, but also through corporate colonization of the media. In the group discussion, a workshop participant spoke of a corporation making the media take down stories about electric bikes. This is just one of the many examples of how corporate colonization threatens journalism’s loyalty to citizens, truth, and democracy.

As for developing environmental literacy, I look at it as a lifelong endeavor. The field of environmental education has changed over time. Educational movements, including progressive education, nature study, outdoor education, conservation education, and ecology education, have contributed to the development of environmental education. Who knows how many misconceptions we need to clear away about the ways we eat, the clothes we wear, the exercises we perform and the way we treat the environment? Fortunately, if we start acting now, sustainability is still an achievable goal.

To register for the next Environmental Education and Sustainability Workshop scheduled on March 23rd or April 27th at California State University, Los Angeles, please click here

Rensi is a GLN blogger who writes book reviews and movie reviews about healthy and eco-friendly lifestyles. With a B.A. degree in English and an M.A. degree in Communication Studies, she loves working in a multicultural setting with people from various disciplines. She enjoys reading, jogging, and translating Chinese jokes and pop songs into English.

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