When I was invited to share some thoughts about environmental education in our schools, I jumped at the opportunity to ‘push my wheelbarrow’. With the National Curriculum being introduced in some subjects in our schools this year, my starting point has to be the “Introduction” section of every new syllabus. There are two broad goals that clearly state what the K-10 Curriculum Framework will achieve.
Goal 2 states, “All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens.”
So there we have it. All those activities (and there are too many to mention) that teachers undertake in our schools for Environmental Educational purposes, meet Goal 2. In fact, I would argue that herein lies the justification for more support for environmental education in our schools.
I quote from Kevin Treston’s A modern credo: telling the Christ story within the context of creation. “The foundation of Christian morality is love of God, self, others and creation.” In Catholic schools the concept of stewardship underpins our faith. St Mary’s High School Gateshead is a Josephite school celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Those remarkable, intelligent, hard-working Josephite Sisters carried out the work of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop and educated their students about the need for stewardship. That tradition is alive and well.
The ‘Human Society and its Environment’ (HSIE) Department at St Mary’s has just returned from its annual Redhead coastal management excursion. Our students were active citizens, carrying out a rubbish audit and learning and reflecting on our use of plastics and the impact they have on the oceans and marine life. We assisted the local landcarers by planting more natives in the coastal corridor. This is a project we have supported for five years because students at our school live near, and play at, Redhead beach. They need to be shown how, and taught to understand why it is important, to minimise their footprint on the environment and to give back whenever they can. “Think Global, Act Local”.
One of our mantras at St Mary’s is ‘Respect’: respect for each other and for our natural and cultural environment. Our students ‘get this’; they just need a gentle reminder every now and then about why, and how, to show respect. This includes being shown how to respect the environment, and this part is easy and fun.
And so I walk around the playground with my litter lifters, talk rubbish at school assemblies – “not a single piece of rubbish Year 10, I am watching” – and get my hands dirty on Landcare days. Sure, my love of environment developed because of my north coast country upbringing and a truly inspirational 78 year-old Geography teacher who abseilled down school walls and encouraged us to go whitewater rafting at Nymboida. In student talk, the natural environment is “awesome”. Every time I am at the beach, in a forest, in the Aussie bush, teaching my students about the wonders of creation, I feel great. I feel alive and well. I feel closer to God. It is spiritual.
Environmental activities allow our students to feel alive and well. I have seen students delight in the fact that they were up to their armpits in dirt whilst trying to help me clear a surface drain. They fight about who is pushing the wheelbarrow and who is using those cool, but deadly tools. “Is that frog spawn Mrs Murray? Where is the frog? What sort is it?” So much to learn, so little time! City dwelling students take pleasure in growing plants, raising worms, caring for chickens, turning the mulch and doing outdoor stuff. For some, schools are the only places where they can participate in such activities. Your homes can also be a place to provide your children with outdoor learning.
My simple message is, get out into your backyard or neighbourhood and do something. Families can set up a simple veggie garden at home and let the children decide on the crop, plant it, harvest it and eat it. Start a worm farm to recycle your food scraps and have your own natural fertiliser on tap. Use fewer single-use plastics, be mindful of what packaging we use to pack our children’s lunches. When we go to the beach, follow Tim Silverwood’s ‘Take 3’ message: take 3 pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach. How simple. Volunteer for your local Landcare group. Sit on your verandah at night and watch our marvellous native wildlife come alive.
“The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” It sure is; we all just need regular opportunities to see it. This is why environmental studies must be part of your children’s education. As an educator in the 21st century, I believe it is my duty to educate young people to be mindful, to be respectful and to act. I hope that one or two students will remember the message their Geography teacher was trying to get across and that I will have inspired them to be informed and active citizens.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has,” said Margaret Mead. I took this quote from a great DVD, Bag it. Borrow it from your local library.
One more thing: What measure can you undertake – and commit to all year – to improve the environment in your home and at your school?
To learn more, visit www.catholicearthcare.org.au and www.littleecofootprints.com.
Some environmental activities occurring in schools:
- Healthy canteens, litterless lunches
- Earth Hour Challenges
- School gardening projects
- Bug surveys
- Frog gardens
- Water meters and solar panels
- Retrofitting school facilities with energy and water saving technologies
- Electric Vehicle Challenge
- Veggie and herb gardens
- Worm farms and composting
- Greenhouse: collecting native seeds and propagating
- Audits of energy, water, rubbish
- Regeneration of creeks and bushland
- Ecology units in Science
- Aboriginal art projects
- Environmental perspective in English
- Science and Geography field trips.