The overlooked side of environmental education: health

February 12, 2011

I read with interest the commentary by Kathi J. Heron entitled "Don't backpedal on environmental ed" (Feb. 11). She is right that environmental education should be a critical component of education in Maryland, particularly from the perspective of developing and nurturing environmental stewardship in our children. However, there is another side to this coin, and that is the relationship between the environment and human health. In teaching environmental education this connection is often missed: What humankind does to the environmental comes back to bite us with regard to our health. Why is there this disconnect between the environmental community and the public health community? With regard to schools, it important to note that teachers are often very aware of environmental issues but are not aware of their connection to human health.

Most colleges and universities have wonderful environmental studies programs but don't teach environmental health. Likewise, in schools of education, future science teachers often are not exposed to the interrelationship between the environment and human health. For many years, I had the honor of working on a project with Maryland Public Television to address this very issue. The exciting aspect about environmental health is that it integrates across the entire curriculum :science, math and the political and social sciences.

In this regard, an editorial in this same issue of The Sun discussed the expansion of Advanced Placement courses in Baltimore City Schools ("Testing reform"). In order for students to be successful in such courses, they must connect to what's being taught. Making connections between the environment and health is a way of making it relevant.

We also have to realize that students in Baltimore City are not as connected to the natural environment as are students in other jurisdictions in Maryland. I remember taking students from a Baltimore City middle school on a nature walk in a park bordering their school. For many, this was their first time in this beautiful city park area. I watched with glee as they developed an appreciation for the different plants and trees and the stream within. I not only talked to them about the importance of environmental stewardship but also the implications of poor stewardship for human health now and in the future.

In actuality, there is only one side to this coin: maintaining the environment is good for humankind and all life on this planet. Yes, let's make sure we don't backpedal on environmental education in Maryland, but let's connect it to our health. Future generations will thank us.

Michael A. Trush, Baltimore

The writer is professor and director of the Community Outreach and Education Core at the Johns Hopkins Center in Urban Environmental Health.

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