Agricultural Education Teachers’ Perceptions and Use of Environmental Education is a well-researched Life Sciences Thesis/Dissertation topic, it is to be used as a guide or framework for your Academic Research.
The purpose of this study was to describe the status of environmental education (EE) in Louisiana high school agriculture classrooms. A census of Louisiana Agriscience Teacher Association (LATA) members was conducted to understand their perceptions, attitudes, and barriers regarding EE implementation. Icek Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior was utilized as the theoretical framework. Data were collected through an online survey research method and analyzed using descriptive statistics.
Results suggest that most LATA members incorporate EE into their curriculum relatively sparingly, perceive EE to be beneficial for students, and are in need of funding to incorporate EE into their curriculum as well as professional development opportunities. Based on the findings of this study, the researcher provides several recommendations for future research and practice.
Background and Setting
Both children and adults in the United States have demonstrated a lack of understanding regarding environmental topics and issues (Bofferding & Kloser, 2015; Bradley, Waliczek, & Zajicek, 1999; Flannery & Whiting, 2003; Gambro & Switzky, 1999; Robelia & Murphy, 2012; Westervelt & Llewellyn, 1985).
Robelia and Murphy (2012) compiled national environmental knowledge survey results between 1997 and 2009 and found that United States citizens have misconceptions regarding environmental issues, which hinders them from making informed environmental policy decisions.
Additionally, Westervelt and Llewellyn (1985) conducted a national study of fifth and sixth-grade students’ wildlife knowledge and attitudes in the United States and discovered that students possessed limited knowledge regarding wildlife and received most of their knowledge from television. A similar study was conducted by Flannery and Whiting (2003) also found that television was the primary source of wildlife knowledge for fifth-grade students in Texas.
For children who do not have access to EE in school, television programs may serve as a supplemental form of information, but it cannot replace formal education (Flannery & Whiting, 2003; Hungerford & Volk, 1990; Westervelt & Llewellyn, 1985). Where a student’s lives may also contribute to environmental knowledge. Flannery and Whiting (2003) as well as Westervelt and Llewellyn (1985) found that minority students living in urban areas demonstrated less wildlife knowledge than non-minority students in rural areas. However, Race, Decker, and Taylor (1990) found that students living in urban areas had higher wildlife knowledge than students in rural areas.
Due to limited opportunities to safely access natural resources, African American and Hispanics from low-income neighborhoods are less inclined than Caucasian people to change their perspective on environmental issues and have little chance for positive reinforcement of ecological concepts (Bullard, 2006; Fisman, 2005; Jones & Rainey, 2006).
Not only do children living in urban cities feel disconnected from nature, but urban issues such as pollution and poverty, which are commonly endured by people of color and immigrants, are often seen as exclusively social issues rather than environmental issues (Blanchet-Cohen & Reilly, 2013). Regardless of demographics, there is a need for expanding formal environmental education (EE) for students.
As future voters, policymakers, and consumers, it is particularly important to educate youth to become informed of environmental topics and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills (Bofferding & Kloser, 2015; Bradley et al., 1999). The environmental issues occurring today will impact children and youth into adulthood, meaning they must be prepared to tackle these issues as adults (Naquin, Cole, Bowers, & Walkwitz, 2011).
To ensure that students are able to develop the skills necessary to analyze issues and make informed decisions, they should be provided an education that involves developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills while also incorporating environmental content (Stapp et al., 1969). Further, EE educates learners on environmental issues and topics and provides learners with the necessary skills to become informed citizens that are able to make responsible decisions (Athman & Monroe, 2001; Stapp et al., 1969).
Therefore, EE is implemented in educational settings in hopes that increasing students’ knowledge of environmental issues and topics will lead to environmental literacy, which hopefully leads to changes in behavior (Hungerford & Volk, 1990). Previous literature regarding the connection between knowledge and action have found equivocal results, with some finding that possessing knowledge does not influence action (Hungerford & Volk, 1990; Paco & Lavrador, 2017; Polonsky, Garma, & Grau, 2011) and others stating that knowledge does have an impact on the action (Bord et al., 1999; Malkus & Meinhold, 2005).
Although knowledge alone may not be sufficient to directly influence action, it is a fundamental prerequisite (Robelia & Murphy, 2012). For example, much of environmental policy involves environmental knowledge that is inherently too complex for the general public to grasp (Paco & Lavrador, 2017). Citizens cannot be expected to change their behaviors based on information they are unable to interpret, meaning EE must be readily accessible and understandable if citizens are to become environmentally literate and make informed environmental policy decisions (Disinger, 2001; Paco & Lavrador, 2017).
If EE is to be more successful at encouraging changes in action, the instruction can be made relevant to learners (Athman & Monroe, 2001). By including topics that are relevant to learners’ sense of place, students may become more impacted by instruction and therefore more influenced to make environmentally responsible decisions (Kudryavtsev, Krasny, & Stedman, 2012). For students in Louisiana, relevant connections to EE may include topics on local agricultural production and land-use changes, soil erosion, river leveeing, coastal wetlands, fisheries, and/or forestry.
Louisiana possesses a variety of valuable natural resources and environments. However, many of these have unfortunately faced degradation in the last several decades. Overall, 40% of the contiguous United States’ wetlands are located in Louisiana. Further, Louisiana has experienced 80% of the total wetland loss in the country in the last century (Jankowski, Tornqvist, & Fernandes, 2017). While wetlands can be lost through natural processes, most of the loss experienced since 1900 is anthropogenically induced (Jankowski et al., 2017).
Wetlands are threatened by human impacts such as river leveeing and damming, dredging navigation canals, water pollution from upstream watersheds, drainage for agriculture and urban development, and peat mining (Jankowski et al., 2017; Mitsch & Hernandez, 2012). Changes in precipitation patterns directly affect the length and degree of flooding of inland wetlands, which impacts hydrology as well as the flora and fauna of the area (Mitsch & Hernandez, 2012).
The combination of these effects makes a land loss and rising sea levels a complex issue (Jankowski et al., 2017). Specifically, the sea level is estimated to rise 50 to 200 centimeters within the next century (Mitsch & Hernandez, 2012). Rising sea levels and a lack of equivalent vertical accretion of sediments due to river leveeing will eventually result in the degradation of wetlands in coastal areas (Mitsch & Hernandez, 2012). Coastal wetlands act as a filter between land runoff from agriculture and the ocean, meaning the loss of these areas will result in decreased water quality in open water (Barnes et al., 2015).
The consequences of excessive runoff from agriculture upstream have already plagued the Gulf of Mexico by producing a dead zone of hypoxic water (Barnes et al., 2015). This area lacks enough oxygen to support living organisms, which directly impacts the functionality and the availability of the resources provided by wetlands and the open ocean (McCrackin, Cooter, Dennis, Harrison, & Compton, 2017).
Coastal and inland wetlands provide a variety of resources and services for both the residents of Louisiana and the nation (Barnes et al., 2015; Jankowski et al., 2017). Wetlands and estuaries in Louisiana provide several valuable ecosystem services, including (a) storm protection, (b) water for consumption and transport, (c) food, (d) raw materials, (e) medicinal and plant resources, (f) nutrient cycling, (g) biological biodiversity, and (h) cultural goods and services such as recreation (Barnes et al., 2015).
Rising sea levels and land loss in Louisiana put these resources at risk, especially (a) raw materials, (b) water supply resources, (c) medicinal and plant resources, and (d) food from fisheries, hunting, aquaculture, and agriculture (Barnes et al., 2015). Specifically, the aquaculture industry contributes $326 million to the state’s economy (Lutz, LeBlanc, Sheffield, & Nix, 2011).
Louisiana is also a major contributor to the nation’s seafood, meaning a land loss in Louisiana affects the economies of other areas in the nation (Barnes et al., 2015). The degradation of these natural ecosystems also has severe impacts on sport fishing related tourism and job opportunities (Hall & Higham, 2005; Jankowski, 2017).
This has serious direct and indirect implications for all demographics of Louisiana. As of 2016, approximately 63% of Louisiana’s population was Caucasian, 32% was African American and 5% was Hispanic or Latino (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). When compared to Caucasian children, African American and Hispanic children are twice as likely to live below the poverty line (Macartney, Bishaw, & Fontenot, 2013).
According to the United States Census Bureau, about 20% of the state of Louisiana’s population is in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). In areas like Louisiana that have economies that rely partly on the productivity of natural resources, such as forestry, aquaculture, and oyster production, the loss of these systems results in both environmental and social issues (Schrobback & Coglan, 2018).
Losing these industries means losing vital job opportunities and food resources for locals (Schrobback & Coglan, 2018). Additionally, these issues can severely impact the health and quality of life of individuals, including furthering food insecurity and the loss of job opportunities in economies that rely on natural resources (Schrobback & Cogland, 2018).
In an effort to maintain a sustainable relationship between the environment, public welfare, and agricultural production, there has been an increased interest in educating the public and agricultural producers about these connections (Francis, Jensen, Lieblein, & Breland, 2017; Robertson & Swinton, 2005). Agricultural practices have a significant effect on global environmental health, including (a) water quality, (b) greenhouse gas emissions, (c) biological diversity, (d) carbon sequestration, and (e) soil erosion (DeLonge, Miles, & Carlisle, 2016).
Irresponsible agricultural practices have been linked to the degradation of environmental resources, including (a) soil and water pollution, (b) fish die-offs, (c) decreased biodiversity, and (d) soil depletion (Horrigan, Lawrence, & Walker, 2002). Modern agriculture has the potential to overly consume fossil fuels, topsoil, and water, which have negative consequences for environmental and public health (Horrigan et al., 2002).
These issues are further exacerbated by changes in the global climate. While climate variability has always provided a challenge to humans, the consequences of anthropogenically induced climate change in the last several decades put the livelihoods of humans at risk (Ojha, Pattnaik, & Rout., 2018).
The effects of climate change combined with environmentally irresponsible human impacts such as the (a) excessive emission of greenhouse gases, (b) habitat fragmentation, (c) excessive groundwater depletion, (d) land-use changes, and (e) destructive agricultural practices have resulted in negative consequences on biodiversity and habitat health (DeLonge et al., 2016; Mahmoud & Gan, 2018).
These impacts directly influence the health and productivity of ecosystems, many of which both directly and indirectly affect local economies and food security, especially in rural communities (Ojha et al., 2018; Schrobback & Coglan, 2018).