Closing thoughts from Matthew

May 26th, 2009

Viewing the trip and its opportunities through the lens of education, I too found myself face to face with the unexpected.  Much of this surprise was perhaps due to my own naivete, but many times it was because I allowed what I saw and heard about the Chinese prior to going on the trip impact my perceptions much more than I had anticipated.

My primary focus was to try and understand in what ways the traditional educational environments (K-12 and higher education) played a role in the environmental education of the populous in order to confront  the multitude of environmental issues facing China.  Indeed, K-12 and higher education was too narrow of a focus.  Throughout the entire journey, people not associated with schooling talked about the issues the commoners faced in China regarding simply not knowing what good environmental choices were.  It was obvious that many who had exposure to some sort of environmental education were willing to make different choices, but these choices were also mediated by each person’s economic position – i.e. will saving this resource keep me employed?

As far as traditional schooling supporting environmental education, the Chengdu Panda Based provided  excellent insight into the current thinking on this relationship.  The presentation we witnessed at the base was the premiere for a fourth grade curriculum that dealt with specific issues of conservation.  The pulse from the educators around the room was supportive of the new curriculum, but they also voiced great concern about being able to “fit it in” with the rest of the required curriculum.  When asked about the possibility of aligning the conservation curriculum with the traditional curriculum as a way to be interdisciplinary, as well as a way to limit the need to add extras, the suggestion was met with blank stares and smirks.  The concept of aligning ideas with the traditional curriculum would provide teachers with a “personal interpretation” of the curriculum – something that was not allowed.

This divide presents quite a problem.  During our discussions with the EPA were were assured that the schools were indeed discussing environmental matters, but there were not formal programs in place.  And even when formal programs had been designed, like at the base, these were only supplementary and done if time or money permitted.

These disconnects have long been a problem in the US, and with the increased importance on standardized testing, they loom even greater today.  America and China both have the need to find ways to integrate environmental curriculum, as opposed to always making them a supplement to learning.  America has a benefit because we can utilize the local control that is part of our educational system, and, even though many teachers may disagree, there is an opportunity to personally interpret how content should be experienced by students to what extent it should be conducted on an interdisciplinary level.

In the future, I am increasingly interested to watch how the Chinese seek pathways to mesh the traditional and the environmental/conservation oriented curriculum’s.  It is obvious in our talks that there are many Chinese who are passionately dedicated to the future of environmental education in China and who are trying to find the bidge between tradition and the environment.

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