Communities help shape the beliefs, values and structure of society today. The knowledge children gain from their schools plays a major role in their belief systems and choices they make for the future. A lack of environmental issues being taught in school districts across America is shaping the way past, present and future generations think about sustainability and climate change.
Unlike history or math, environmental science is a complex topic taught in numerous levels of depth, or sometimes not at all, within the American education system. The difference of information presented at schools does not give children an equal or accurate amount of information on the environmental issues at hand, the impact of their environmental footprints and solutions to these issues.
Caden Tegethoff, a sophomore, graduated from Platte-Geddes High School in Platte, South Dakota, in 2020. With a town size of roughly 1,500 and graduating class size of 25, Tegethoff noticed this demographic played a role in the amount and type of information taught in his high school classes.
“At my high school, we did not have classes designated to environmental issues,” Tegethoff said. “I come from a rural community, so the agriculture classes talked about pesticides, soil, land use and other issues related to agronomy and ranching.”
Now double majoring in computer science and environmental studies, much of Tegethoff’s education on environmental issues stemmed from his own research, such as watching documentaries and reading articles. He had no requirement or option to pursue an education of the environment’s health until he attended Augustana.
Caroline Sudbeck, a sophomore majoring in education, environmental studies and English, had a different educational experience learning about environmental issues. Sudbeck had roughly 500 students in her senior class at Lincoln High School, located in Sioux Falls. The high school provided AP Environmental Science, opening her eyes to issues such as climate change and possible solutions to these issues.
Sudbeck said, “I learned that if everyone lived like me my senior year of high school, we would need something like 3.5 Earths. That was really troubling to me and inspired me to find some sustainable alternatives and educate myself on the environmental issues in my community.”
This AP environmental class drove home the importance of each individual’s environmental impact and allowed Sudbeck to cultivate her passion for the environment.
As an education major, Sudbeck hopes to incorporate the teaching of environmental issues in her future classes.
“I think that the environment deeply impacts almost all writing and literature, so I know that environmental issues will come up in prompts I give students or when we study other writers,” Sudbeck said. “This could open up the opportunity for discussions on climate change, something that I think makes a lot of young people anxious.”
Many households today don’t teach children sustainable daily practices. This can be from a lack of knowledge or a sense of overwhelm. Teaching children simple switches they can make in their daily life to live more sustainably can cause a new generation of people to pass this information to their communities.
Jacob Hyland, a sophomore majoring in elementary education, said he is aware of how moldable young minds are. He hopes to incorporate the teaching of environmental issues in his classroom to help shape future generations toward a more sustainable society.
“As education majors, it should be a priority to educate students, not only on our subject matter, but to build educated citizens,” Hyland said. “I truly believe that as teachers we need not shelter our students from pressing issues but instead educate them.”
In many school districts, it is up to the children to find information on sustainability through their own research. Children are not as exposed to environmental classes as other topics and career options, so issues on the climate today are not as prominent as they should be in order to create a substantial movement toward a more sustainable future.
By teaching children the importance of being aware of our environmental impact, each generation can become more conscious of the decisions they make and the effects that these decisions have on our world. How can we make sustainable changes if we are not aware of the changes we need to make?