Should Environmental Studies Be an Integral Part of School Curriculum or a College Syllabus?

Environmental studies is frequently a controversial topic within the educational system. Is learning about environment a worthwhile endeavor? Should it be required study? What exactly is environmental studies? Answering the last question is the first step to understanding its significance. Environmental studies is the study of the numerous complex interactions between people and the world around them; this includes both the living and non-living components of the world. It is a very broad and complex field encompassing many basic and social sciences.

As the human population increases, its impact on the world continues increases as well. Correspondingly, as our population grows, the more resources we are forced to take from the Earth to support that population. Technology has the potential to at least partially circumvent the cycle, but to date has failed to keep pace with the growth in population. Widespread knowledge is pivotal, because all the solutions require numerous people to reach agreement.

In any educational system, studying the field of environmental studies has several positive effects:

1. It ties basic science to the visible world:

Students are much more likely to fully engage and show interest in their core science studies when they can see the application and impact in the real world. For example, the chemical ammonium nitrate might not be that interesting to a student. However, understanding the effect the chemical has on fish and our food supply, as well as the resultant economic and political issues, can make chemistry more interesting.

2. The multidisciplinary nature is very practical:

Only in the classroom does information operate within a vacuum. Environmental issues are very multidisciplinary in their science application (biology, chemistry, physics, geology, ecology, and even mathematics). Also consider that environmental solutions have political, economic and social ramifications. Rarely, if ever, is a student required to consider so many factors when making decisions. Even in the workplace, every system has an effect on nearly every other system. For example, a change on the production line can have significant effects on safety, quality, scheduling, distribution and sales. These types of interactions are something not typically examined when studying other school subjects. Complete study requires a myriad of skills, including laboratory, field, classroom, library, and computer skills.

3. Environmental studies requires complex problem solving skills:

The solutions to environmental issues are complex and force the development of social skills that a student might not otherwise develop. Teamwork is required; no one person has sufficient knowledge, time, or influence to cover all the bases. Opinions regarding environmental issues tend to be extremely diverse, and leadership skills are needed to navigate through that diversity. All environmental issues require a long-term view and require the consideration of the greater common good. The development of all these skills is frequently missing in the current educational system.

4. Stewardship of the planet and our future:

Requiring education in environmental studies is intelligent from the perspective of our survival. Few would argue with the fact that the overall health of the planet continues to decline. Few would argue with the fact that there is currently no other place to live. It only makes sense to provide the education necessary to ensure that intelligent and informed decisions can be made. If everyone had the needed knowledge, the future would be far more secure.

Environmental studies is not only a critical field of study, the studying itself results in numerous benefits to students they might otherwise fail to acquire without its study. A student not only gains greater social, team, and leadership skills, but also learns to solve complex problems within a very multidisciplinary field. The student also develops greater interest and appreciation for the basic sciences. Environmental studies can offer something that cannot be found anywhere else in current educational system, and its relevance will only increase as the population continues to grow.