Wisconsin citizens place a high priority on teaching children about the environment. To support this priority, state lawmakers enacted legislation to establish a comprehensive environmental education program. These laws provide key structural, programmatic, and funding elements. One of the most important elements is the requirement to prepare prospective teachers to teach environmental education.
Under the Wisconsin Administrative Code, all prospective teachers applying for their initial teacher certification must complete a course in environmental education. This includes students who plan to become teachers in early childhood, elementary, agriculture education, and secondary science and social studies (except for philosophy, psychology, and religious studies). Since 1985, Wisconsin’s administrative rules have required that “adequate preparation in conservation of natural resources is required for a license to teach ….”
Prospective teachers must demonstrate competencies in seven areas to meet environmental education certification requirements. Two of these seven areas include knowledge of natural resources and methods of conserving them, and knowledge of the concept of energy. Articles and reports show that two other areas included in this list of seven have sparked controversy around the country. Wisconsin teachers are to be trained in “methods to examine attitudes and values inherent in environment problems” and teaching “ways in which citizens can actively participate in the resolution of environmental problems.”
Unfortunately, these well-intentioned goals become controversial when educators go beyond objective examination of attitudes and values thought to be associated with environmental problems, and they instead consciously set out to manipulate and change values and attitudes in predetermined ways. In addition, parents complain when students are encouraged to initiate “environmentalist” political actions by writing elected officials to promote or oppose legislation, raise money for environmental causes, or write letters to the editors of newspapers. As a result, environmental education has become controversial, rightly or wrongly, by being associated with environmental activism.
Purpose of this Study
The purpose of this study is to examine the content of environmental education materials used in courses required for teacher certification in Wisconsin to see if the knowledge and skills needed to deliver balanced and unbiased environmental education are provided.