The goal of environmental education is to engage people in the protection of nature thus making informed decisions about their environmental behavior. This strategy of sharing knowledge and facts about the environment has not been enough to change people's willingness to take action. Therefore, including civic action into environmental education becomes essential to foster engaged environmental citizens. We refer to this combination of civic action and environmental education as environmental action civics. This multidisciplinary approach asks participants to explore their local communities, identify issues based on their own experiences, develop plans to improve their community and put those plans into action with the support of local stakeholders. Youth are knowledgeable about the environmental issues that affect our world today, but it is important to prepare them in building the skills to solve those issues. As mentioned by Levinson (2014), when young people learn to use tools of civic engagement it becomes their method of choice for advocacy and engagement as adults.
Responding to this need, Earth Force has created a living model for community action and problem-solving processes that allows youth to build on their skills and citizenry thus allowing them to address the environmental challenges we face today. Our research-based model is a six step process that allow youth to collect information about their local communities (step 1), participate in democratic decision making processes that allows the group to select the issue (step 2), research about the policies and practices that perpetuate their identified issue (step 3), democratically decide on the strategies to target their issue (step 4), work with community members to implement their solutions using civic action means (step 5), and finally to reflect on actions taken and plan for the future (step 6). Our model prioritizes youth-adult partnership, project-based learning, inquiry, civic engagement and has been put into practice over 25 years in different social, science, math and engineering classes as well as in different organizational settings.
Our results are stories from youth making local changes in their local communities, from changing local practices to the creation of policies to improve their environment. For environmental education to have an impact on the long term, it is key to transition from traditional practices that focus on providing knowledge and outdoor activities, and move into approaches that focus on supporting youth in solving local environmental issues that are meaningful and relevant to them and their communities.
environmental action civics, youth as active citizens, project based learning