Before the debate over corporate vs. conservation-sponsored environmental education is presented in "Teach the children well" (HCN, 3/26/01: Teach the children well), a more fundamental problem should be addressed. Environmental education is science-based (regardless of who designs the curriculum), and the driving discipline is biology. Herein lies the problem: a strong biological curriculum is lacking in the school systems. How can ecological principles be presented when children are not first provided with an understanding of the underlying biological concepts? Furthermore, biology is traditionally taught from an animal perspective, creating a plant blindness toward the natural world. For most, plants only form the backdrop for animals or are something to avoid (e.g. children learn about old-growth forest ecosystems via the spotted owl or poison ivy, respectively).
Ecological or environmental discussions rarely center on plants. More often classroom discussions are focused on a single or small handful of animal species and their physical surroundings, all the while neglecting the important role plants have in the interaction between animals and their physical environment. Plant education is always secondary and usually inadequate when presented. Most teachers do not possess the knowledge to excite students about the wonders of the plant kingdom or may not be excited about plants themselves to include anything more than a cursory glance in their biology curriculum.
In order to relieve the debate between corporate vs. conservation-sponsored environmental education, a biology curriculum must be developed and implemented that is accurate, inspiring and balanced in its treatments of biology sub-disciplines. Steps are being taken in this direction to relieve plant blindness and provide educational material for teachers (information is available from the Botanical Society of America at www.botany.org). A strong and balanced foundation of biology allows for the development of a sound ecological and environmental understanding. Once teachers and students have a thorough grasp of biological concepts, they can begin to decipher the rhetoric from valid science in the environmental curricula they are given.