THE BLOG

Environmental Education Initiative in California and Beyond

11/29/2012 01:16 pm ET | Updated Jan 29, 2013

After millennia of battling harsh elements living in the natural world, humans have created their own environments with climate-controlled houses and cities that limit the inconvenience of natures' intrusions. Except for moments like Hurricane Sandy or Katrina, we can mostly live untouched by nature if we choose to, but there is a down-side. We ARE nature. Many of us have completely lost touch with the interconnected web of natural systems that sustain us and this is a formula for disaster, natural disaster. This topic, and all that it implies, has finally become an accepted part of our national discourse and most agree that the journey starts with education and action on all levels of society. It is not surprising that California is leading the charge with solutions from the community to state level.

The California Initiative for Education and the Environment states on their website "California is currently poised to lead the nation in environmental literacy with the Education and Environment Initiative (EEI). More can and should be done to understand our relationship with the environment, and we believe the best place to begin is in California's classrooms." Though I feel that the woods or climbing a tree might be a better place to start and I'm sure the folks at Children and Nature would agree, California has once again done the right thing by investing in two of our most valuable resources, youth and the environment.

California has always been known for its technology, innovation, green initiatives, and movie stars adopting social causes. San Francisco Bay Area is a place where it is normal to go to a luncheon with over 1,000 people hosted by The Pachamama Foundation and listen to Lynn Twist talk about changing the human "dream" (paradigm) from one that sees nature as something to be exploited for economic value to a "dream" (paradigm) that views everything as interconnected and sacred with inherent spiritual value. It is a region where the word "Bioneer" emerges by mixing the word "pioneer" with "biology," thus describing an emerging culture of social and scientific innovators who are mimicking nature's operating instructions to serve human ends while enriching the web of life. It's a place where veggie-powered school busses painted with rainbow colors visit schools and plant fruit trees thanks to organizations like Common Vision. Environmental literacy in California may be more advanced than in any modern city on the planet, but it is quite primitive compared to indigenous tribes around the globe who still live close to nature.

While I was in San Francisco, I had the pleasure to spend some time with Michael Leifer, co-founder of ecodads (Eco-Dads) who are spearheading a movement to fix education, create a new economy, and inspire environmental stewardship. Basically ecodads are creating and giving away free "Environmental Edutainment" apps based on the states' Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards and district superintendents,' CAL\EPA, CalRecycle, Cal State Parks and the California Dept of Ed's CREEC Resource show support. The goal of these fun, interactive apps is to put the curriculum into the hands of the students and give them access to all of the separate and valuable education resource providers. Ecodads are blazing the trail for "this type of private public partnership that brings new innovation, collaboration and passion to the task of supporting students' access to powerful learning opportunities in environmental education", as Kris Munro, Assistant Superintendent, Santa Cruz City Schools states.

I think we'd all like to see projects like this spread across the globe and we can't afford to sit and wait for others to do it. If you like this idea and would like to see it happen, you can learn more about the project here; there is also a video posted below. Crowd-sourcing ideas, collaborators, and funders is democracy in action. Thanks to the Internet, people are more empowered to effect their community and social systems from a grass-roots level and the tech-savvy communities in California are making it happen.

As I wrote previously in "Comics Instead of Textbooks", the days of heavy, visually non-stimulating text books will soon be behind us. With models like the ecodads above, and the future collaboration between gaming, and visual media experts, school looks like its about to get a whole lot more fun and effective. Climbing a tree will never be obsolete, luckily there is more to learning than information, kids need to play. The ultimate goal is to bridge the connection so that kids start to see every moment as an opportunity for learning and understand at an early age that they are part of the interconnected web of nature. As people wake up to their impact and responsibility as participants in their community and as stewards of the planet, we will be creating a brighter future. It starts with kids, it starts with education.

The whole notion of apps, iPads, and mobile devices for learning is very exciting and kids will love to be using the best of contemporary technology as part of their education. Let's encourage more collaborations across disciplines, and community initiated involvement in re-shaping education. What will you initiate in your town, city or region?

Eventually, technology may help us reintegrate with the natural environment in a healthy way. Perhaps initiatives and conversations like this as well as organizations like the ones mentioned above will become commonplace everywhere, not just in California. If we are lucky enough to see this emerge as a cultural revolution that honors nature, raises eco-literate children, and embraces the whole human community as one global family, then perhaps we can enjoy the comforts of our cozy modern life without the threats associated with a warming planet. Humans can play a role in becoming part of the immune system of our planet or staying part of the disease, the choice is ours.