• Radhika Iyengar

The Biden-Harris agenda should commit to Education for Sustainability

Julia Sommer

Member of Green Team for South Orange Maplewood School District (NJ) and sustainability educator

The formal education system experienced by millions of American youth is one in which academic subjects occupy separate silos that often lack relevance and timeliness to students’ lives. As Covid-era schooling is now conducted mostly through screens at home, parents are seeing firsthand how such a structure leads to lack of engagement, both cognitive and emotional. At the same time, Americans’ levels of civic learning are dangerously low as public schools for years have prioritized math and reading over civic literacy. We no longer expect or demand that our schools will focus on what it means to participate actively in our democracy. The Biden-Harris administration could address all these ills through a commitment to Education for Sustainability. Imagine if the government provided incentives for every school, K-12 and beyond, to hire a Sustainability Coordinator and every district to hire a Climate Literacy Officer? (A handful of schools already do the former and Portland, OR has actually done the latter.) Educators in such roles could support teachers and administrators in developing interdisciplinary projects that ensure all students learn about the causes and effects of climate change. An empowering education would teach students how to work within democratic institutions to enact local, state, and federal policies that ensure a healthier planet as well as economic stability in the coming years. Students’ education would become both relevant and timely if they studied local problems related to the environment and devised real-world solutions with the support of educators trained in Action Civics. Teaching this curriculum successfully is a serious shift from the system currently in place and will only happen with significant financial support for professional development. I can think of no initiative that could have a greater impact on Earth’s future than empowering youth to mitigate Global Warming’s effects through civic engagement.

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