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Environmental Education This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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At the tender age of eleven, I found myself immersed in the slippery world of politics. I had written a letter to President Bush expressing my concerns about environmental issues, and received a response that confirmed that my letter had not been read; my concerns had been ignored. As a result, I strove to learn all I could about politics in order to resolve the environmental issues that plagued me.

I became obsessed. I surrounded myself with books, copies of The Economist, and newspapers. However, the more I buried myself in my studies within the dark walls of my room, the more isolated I became from my own locality.

The more I worried about what was happening in D.C., the more I forgot the reason that I became absorbed in politics in the first place. My sense of environmentalism was diminishing, and materialism and petty politics were taking over. Luckily, that was when I discovered the world of environmental education.

All sixth-grade classes attended an annual outdoor education program. As our bus turned into Rancho Alegre Outdoor School, I felt like I was entering the Twilight Zone. My world had transformed from a milieu of sidewalks and houses to one of forest and streams. Immediately I knew I was home. Indeed, as the week progressed, this feeling intensified. As I began my first hike of the week – the botany hike – I was overwhelmed by the nature around me. The vivacious calls of the blue jays, the chittering and scurrying of squirrels darting across the path, the stalwart scrub oaks standing above the chaparral, all brought me back to my purpose.

Suddenly I remembered why I became immersed in politics. The naturalists spoke of the environment and how the simplest objects – a rock, a leaf – were beautiful. Look: Here was a chrysalis, an apt metaphor for my sheltered state. I crossed a stream, hopping from rock to rock, and listened to the sibilance of the water, the whisper of wind in the pines. This, then, was my world.

My political issues seemed petty in this environment.

I remembered I had wanted to learn about politics not for their intrinsic gamesmanship, but so I could conserve the world around me. Those ideals had not changed, and are principles that will guide my future. All politics is local, according to the books I read. My world was expanded by Rancho Alegre, but it also became focused: I learned to look more closely – at the vein of a leaf, the color of a stone.

When I returned home, I found out all I could about environmental education programs. Even at such a young age, I realized that these programs saved me and my peers from having “nature deficit disorder.” As I scanned the archives of the Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education and the North American Association for Environment Education, I was astounded by the number of individuals who care deeply about youth and wish to help bring the power of environment into our lives. However, it soon became apparent that many constraints stymied their efforts.

Budget cutbacks have caused environmental education programs to be cut from curriculums, even though these are probably the best way to educate students on the important ecological issues. To solve the larger issues – water conservation, species protection, global warming – education of our youth is vital. If I hadn't attended Rancho Alegre, I would still be obsessed with politics, unable to see the bigger picture.

In order to prevent this nature deficit disorder from expanding, it is vital to save environmental education programs. Although the cost will strain state budgets in the short term, in the long run everyone will benefit when our youth hear the power of nature's call, and act to save our planet.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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