Teaching Environmental Education to Wisconsin Teachers

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Wisconsin is known nationally as a leader in environmental education (EE). This reputation is earned by having one of the most comprehensive EE programs in the nation. Included in this program is a requirement to teach prospective teachers about the environment, so that they can fulfill their responsibility to teach EE to their kindergarten through 12th-grade students.

This report evaluates university-level course materials used to teach prospective teachers about the environment. Materials from 12 courses offered by eight University of Wisconsin System campuses — Eau Claire, Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, Stevens Point, Superior, and Whitewater — are compared to educational standards for accuracy and fairness. The standards used are guidelines recently established by the nation’s largest association of professional environmental educators, the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).

Published in November 1996, the NAAEE Environmental Education Materials: Guidelines for Excellence establish nationwide standards for evaluating EE materials. These Guidelines require that materials present information that is factually accurate and balanced. Quality EE materials must cover “differences of opinion or competing scientific explanations” and “should encourage learners to explore different perspectives and form their own opinions.”

When the materials from the 12 courses reviewed in this study are compared to the NAAEE Guidelines, two of them meet the guidelines with qualifications (Eau Claire and Madison), seven of them fail to meet the guide-lines (Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, Stevens Point, two courses at Superior, and one at Whitewater), and three of them use materials that contain uneven information resulting in an inconclusive evaluation (two at La Crosse and one at Whitewater).

This study finds that:

1. Many materials mislead prospective teachers by mixing science with advocacy.

2. The science presented as environmental science in many of these materials is often the selective use of scientific information to lead future teachers to predetermined conclusions.

3. Even though these materials claim to be multidisciplinary, with the inclusion of economics, a balanced and fair treatment of economic reasoning is largely nonexistent in them.

4. Normal standards of scholarship, which require citations for data and opinions taken from other sources, are almost entirely missing from these teacher education materials.

5. These EE materials largely fail to transmit to prospective teachers the educational responsibility and ethics for educating, rather than propagandizing, students.


State officials responsible for and interested in balanced EE should transmit to university officials clear expectations regarding that which is acceptable and that which is unacceptable environmental education. For example, textbooks that place advocacy of an ideological view above teaching balanced science and economics should not be used or should at least be balanced with alternative views. Clearly stated standards, such as the NAAEE Guidelines for “Fairness and Accuracy,” should be adopted to govern EE teacher education courses. (Arizona has adopted these Guidelines as guidance for its EE grant programs.) Political advocacy for particular environmental policy outcomes, without alternative perspectives, should not be part of responsible teacher training in environmental education.