Earth Literacy Education: What, why and how?
Frans C. Verhagen, Executive Director
International Society of Ecological Educators
This short write-up of Earth literacy education proposes a new model of
grade, secondary and tertiary education that would be based upon Earth awareness and
Earth care, the two pillars of Earth literacy. This organizing concept of
Earth literacy is shown to be phase six in North American environmental education,
based as it is upon the emerging theory of bioregional environmentalism. The
article describes those six phases, the nature of Earth literacy and how
it can be accomplished. Persons interested in this model can get more
information from the International Society of Ecological Educators.
Environmental education has gone through many phases and shows a great
diversity even in specific cultures such as the North American one.
Learning and instruction about a community's physical and ecological
environment, both formal and informal, on both elementary, secondary and
adult levels is a mosaic of situations that reflects the cultural
diversity of a society at a particular time in history. In North America
we can distinguish at least half a dozen phases in environmental
education, which is culminating in an Earth literacy phase that includes
most of the foregoing phases with different emphases, and most
importantly, within a wellfounded theory of environmentalism.
The first phase was and, to some extent, is the Native American
transmission of attitudes, customs and practices that can be
characterized as living in unity and harmony with Nature. It is this
earliest of phases that has to be reincorporated into the Earth literacy
phase, changing the domination posture the early settlers and the cando
technical outlook of present-day society.
The second phase was one of Nature study with spokespersons such as
Thoreau, Muir, Emerson, Whitman, etc.
With the increase of industrialization, the need for conservation became
clear to individuals such as President Theodore Roosevelt and New York
State Governor Hill who around the turn of the century, respectively,
established the Presidential Commission on Conservation and preserved
regions in the Adirondacks and the Catskills.
Phase three--the emergence of camping education with the founding of the
Scouting movement by Lord Baden-Powell in 1910--and phase four--outdoor
education and school gardening--became part of the NYC school curriculum
when, as leading NYC ecological educator Kominski stated, "School
gardening may have been as important then as computer centers are to us
now." Rachel Carson's work in the 60s brought environmental education to
another level of sophistication by emphasizing the degradation and
disintegration of Earth systems, a veritable advance in environmental
education in this phase five. Present day environmental education that
includes strands of those earlier phases has to be pulled up to a higher
level of sophistication, an Earth literacy.
Phase six or Earth literacy education incorporates and is based upon the
theory of environmentalism that organizes societies according to the
premium values of sustainability and equity. Part of this political
theory is a value or ethical system that includes both ecological and
social equity as its guiding principles. Together, these form part of a
biocentric and holistic worldview or a cosmology that incorporates the
scientific breakthroughs in physics and astronomy at the beginning of
this century. A new universe story is emerging that, based as it is on
recent scientific achievements, can form the core of new myths by which
humanity can energize itself and find the core unity that is needed in
its ever increasing diversity.
Earth literacy education, therefore, includes not only learning and
instruction in attitudes, skills and knowledge in respect to mother
Earth, but also the development of a perspective or worldview that tells
the story of the universe, of Earth, life, and human species with the
Earth and life as central, not the human species. A major challenge of
this phase in environmental education is to repurpose education (i.e.,
change the purpose of education from human-centered or anthropocentric to
life-centered or biocentric learning and instruction).
This radical revision of education is already taking place through the
networking of those persons, organizations and institutions that are
implementing this Earth literacy model of education. An international
organization that is based upon this Earth literacy model of education
(the International Society of Ecological Educators [ISEE]), presently
works mostly with secondary education and will be available on NYCENET
(Telnet 188.8.131.52 or Metro1.nycenet.edu) and on Econet in the near
future. Its headquarters are located at 97-37 63rd Road, Suite 15E,
Forest Hills North, N.Y. 11374. Voice and fax:718-275-3932. v03/11/94