Wisconsin has long been an incubator for prescient ideas about the connection between human society and the natural environment.
John Muir’s boyhood in the backwoods near Portage, Wis., provided a foundation for his early leadership in a dawning environmental protection movement.
A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold’s description of the area around his Sauk County, Wis., home, has inspired natural stewardship throughout the world and is required reading for anyone with an interest in conservation.
My father, the late U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, launched the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, as an annual day of observance and nationwide teach-in about environmental issues because he recognized the significance of educating children and young adults about the natural world.
Today, as we reap the effects of pernicious economic activity, a failing energy policy and atmospheric warming, I find my father’s words both foreboding and reassuring:
“Forging and maintaining a sustainable society is The Challenge for this and all generations to come. At this point in history, no nation has managed to evolve into a sustainable society. We are all pursuing a self-destructive course of fueling our economies by drawing down our natural capital–that is to say, by degrading and depleting our resource base–and counting it on the income side of the ledger. … [T]he real wealth of a nation is its air, water, soil, forests, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity.”
Papa often talked about the importance of raising the next generation with environmental ethics so they make informed decisions about the use of our natural resources, which are the authentic foundation of a healthy economy. Imagine a robust and equitable economy with clean and abundant energy resources, sustainably managed farms and forests, where innovation and green jobs give us healthy choices that can lead us to a better future.
As a result of impassioned summertime conversations about the present urgency of my father’s words, environmental scientists, educators and other citizens from throughout the United States will travel to storied Central Wisconsin in November for a seminal discussion of the dual imperative for public schools to recognize sustainable “green” values as a critical aspect of citizenship and use charter-school operating arrangements to research and develop the comprehensive environmental education and conservation curricula we need to dramatically change our culture, preserve natural capital and enjoy a good life that does not deprive future generations.
It has become clear to many of us who have been focused on environmental issues that it is now critical for our nation to rethink the ways public education serves its crucial role in the development of a sustainable society.
Green educational programming is flourishing in public charter schools because these schools can break the mold of traditional school, which is bound by bricks-and-mortar, industrial-era ideas about classrooms and instruction–the boundaries that may limit our exploration of new terrain. Charter schools allow public school districts to pilot fresh programs and policies that can vary considerably from other more traditional approaches.
With 15 green charter schools, Wisconsin is leading the nation in using charter-school operating arrangements to develop contemporary environmental values.
River Crossing Charter School, a public school nestled in the region that inspired Muir and Leopold, offers a unique environmental-based educational program that uses the rich natural resources and industrial history of Wisconsin as an outdoor learning laboratory, offering hands-on programming and investigative sites along the Wisconsin and Fox rivers–waterways that extend from the paper mill towns along Lake Michigan to the Mississippi.
Earlier this year, a fledgling national network of green charter schools was organized in Wisconsin to build a collective knowledge base about environmental education that provides students the academic knowledge, technical skills and personal dispositions they need to solve our nation’s thorniest public problems.
The issues presently confronting our nation challenge us to develop a sustainable economy and culture through fundamentally transformed schools.
The first Green Charter Schools National Conference is scheduled for November 7 – 8 at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
“At the Heart of a Green Curriculum: What It Means to Be An Educated Person,” a foundational message delivered by WILLIAM CRONON, the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will open the program.
MORGAN BROWN will speak about “Green Chartered Schools: A Systemic View” at the noon plenary session. Brown is Assistant Commissioner, Minnesota Dept. of Education.
The conference is presented by: Green Charter Schools Network
UW-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Learn more about public charter schools with environment-focused educational programs.
New Roots to Rethink Old Education Model
The Urban Environment