Posts Tagged ‘School’

By Kirsten Bokenkamp

Ask any kid what they do in their free time and the answer will likely include watching TV and playing video games. Indeed, children ages 8-18 watch an average of almost 4 hours of TV or movies a day – with an additional 2 hours playing video games! Don’t get me wrong – not all aspects of Generation M, or the “Internet Generation” are bad. But, spending 6+ hours inside (in addition to school) a day is most certainly contributing to what Richard Louv has termed Nature-deficit Disorder.

One of the symptoms of Nature-deficit Disorder is a lack of understanding of the earth, and our relationship with it – including the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the weather we experience, the things we buy, and the final resting place for our trash. This disconnect to nature could be detrimental to the future of the environment, and thus humans. That is precisely why, as parents and educators, it is important to teach our children about the world in which we live – so they will grow up with an appreciation for our planet, and treat it with the respect it both deserves and requires.

As parents, it is simple: The more environmentally aware you are, the more environmentally aware your children will be. When your children are young, read them books such as The Lorax, by Dr Seuss; The Waterhole, and Uno’s Garden, by Graeme Base; or Where the Forest Meets the Sea, by Jeannie Baker. In addition, talk about where the food on your dinner plate comes from – where was it grown? What did it go through to end up on your table? Better yet, take a family trip to a farm – watch cows being milked and wheat being harvested. Does your family eat a mostly vegetarian diet and you want to include your kids in the kitchen? If so, then check out the book Kids Can Cook. Enjoy a spring day – go peach picking! Get dirty together in the garden; go to Earth Day events, which have lots of fun stuff for kids; and instill good habits such as turning out the lights, using less water, buying local and organic food and products, reusing containers and grocery bags, recycling, and composting. An added bonus to most of these activities is spending more time with your children! Don’t fret if your kids are glued to the computer screen. Embrace Generation M by showing your kids a fun environmental website, like the EPA climate change site, Tiki the Penguin, or the Composting for Kids slideshow, set up by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. Click here for more ways to talk to your kids about climate change.

For another 6 hours of the day, kids are in school, where they are undeniably influenced by their teachers. The public school system is a large institution, and can be a great channel for change. Below are just a few samples of the many programs you can recommend to schools in your district.

Watt Watchers: From El Paso Texas, Watt Watchers is a program designed for K-12 classrooms. It gives the students the job of “patrolling” the halls and classrooms. When they find the lights on in an empty classroom, they leave a ticket for the guilty party. It is fun, and I’ve been told it really gets the kids excited about energy efficiency. Teachers can also find curriculum supplements and other activity ideas on the website. According to Watt Watchers, as of 2008, more than teachers in over 645 school districts have participated in their innovative programs. Check out their website, or call 1-888-US WATTS for more information.

– The Texas Energy Conservation Office (SECO) offers “Energy Education,” which is a curriculum supplement for secondary school science students. Their website offers lesson plans and activities for students to participate in, and includes subjects from alternative fuels, to energy efficiency, to global climate change. In addition their own curriculum, SECO offers numerous links to organizations that provide environmental and energy efficiency related educational material and activities.

– From Vermont, The HOP Program – Help Our Planet – is an innovative way to inspire individuals and schools to improve the environmental health of their communities, thus leading to a healthier planet. HOP focuses on simple environmentally friendly tasks that individuals commit to one-by-one. Once a certain task – say, unplugging your appliances when not in use – becomes habit, HOP asks participants to welcome another climate friendly activity into their daily lives. And the march goes on. The HOP Teacher Handbook offers programs for individuals, for classes, and for school-wide projects. HOP goes beyond environmental curriculum to include projects such as setting up a system to collect and recycle electronic items, growing organic lettuce in the classroom, cleaning up the school grounds, or starting a compost pile in the cafeteria. Unlike many other programs for schools, HOP also works to connect students with their communities.

The three examples above are just a taste of the available resources for environmental education – and the more we ask for it, the more responsive teachers, schools, and boards of education will become.

One of the most important things we can do for future generations is to remind our kids how precious the planet is – and how much we depend on it for virtually every activity in our lives (including the minerals necessary for surfing the web and playing video games). By becoming environmentally aware parents and educators, we have the power to truly change the world and ensure a livable planet for generations to come!

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, cleaner cars, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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This is an issue that has been bothering me for some time, but does not get as much play in political discourse I think it should. In my opinion the high cost of education and my generation’s huge accumulation of loan debt are likely to be one of the biggest problems that ordinary people in this country face.

The increased integration of the global economy is dictating that we have a highly educated workforce in order to remain competitive. To get this, high-quality post-secondary education needs to be available to all who want it, and people who have received secondary education need to have the freedom to meet their potential.

Unfortunately, this is not the way the situation looks currently. The cost of post-secondary education has grown to unprecedented heights, and more than half of college graduates are indebted to student loan providers by the time they graduate. It has become commonplace for college graduates to be saddled with anywhere from $50 to over $100 thousand in debt.

I admit that I may be a little biased, being that this issue hits very close to home for me. I am a recent graduate myself and have seen many people in my age group saddled with unbelievable amounts of debt. As is reflected by my work at Public Citizen, I am an aspiring government reformer whose primary ambitions are in the nonprofit sector. I love the fact that I am able to work for an organization that makes efficient use of its funding and fights for the things I value, making a genuinely positive impact. This type of thing is not an option to many of the people I graduated with, because they are forced to work jobs that pay enough to pay off their accumulated debt.

While many of colleagues may not have chosen this career path anyway, it is unfortunate that it is not even a viable option for them. One cannot help but note the irony of many people my age being unable to fight the status quo because they are so heavily indebted to companies that want to preserve it.

The costs of education have continued to rise in this country, and government assistance has fallen heavily. Over the last few decades the amount of tuition costs paid for by Pell grants for students in need of financial assistance has dramatically declined from covering over 60% to below 30% of students. In 1997, amendments added to the Higher Education Act deregulated the student loan business and made it possible for lenders to charge huge interest rates and massive default penalties fees. Companies are now able to forbid refinancing and use of bankruptcy protections for debtors. Worse, they are now able to garnish wages and social security, as well as prevent debtors from obtaining professional certifications and use their influence to terminate debtors employment. Sally Mae and other companies are able to see to it that their debtors are unable to pay off their loans and accumulate enormous amounts of interest — and of course they have spent millions of dollars lobbying and donating to the campaigns of their allies in congress like House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senator Mike Enzi.

Much like the sub prime loans that led to the mortgage crisis last year, these loans are sold to incoming students as being much more affordable then they are in reality. They are not warned of the astronomical amounts of interests that these loans often accumulate, or how quickly interest rates can jump. Defaulted students loans have become a huge industry and this legalized loan-sharking has made the executives and share holders at Sally Mae and other lending companies very well off. Unfortunately this boon to their fortunes has done considerable harm to our current generation of college graduates and our country’s ability to compete in the world economy.

The Disappointed Environmentalist

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